Caring for the Community

Student-athletes contributed 147,800 hours of community service in 2011-12

Caring for the Community

As a 4-year-old, UCF rower Claire Frenkel battled tonsil cancer, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. But when she met the Orlando Magic players and sat atop Shaquille O’Neal’s shoulders, she felt like she could conquer anything, even cancer.

Frenkel knows how much athletes can help to change the lives of children in need, and she is one of many UCF student-athletes who eagerly give back to the community.

“It’s a big part of who I am,” said Frenkel, who earned her degree in Psychology this spring. “I saw how much good the charities did for me, and I’ll always make an effort my entire life to give back. I know if I can just give that little bit of my heart and time for somebody else, it will make all the difference.”

During the 2011-12 academic year, UCF’s student-athletes contributed 147,800 hours of community service. Over the last three years, student-athletes have completed more than 405,195 cumulative hours – the equivalent of more than 46 years — of service.

Many student-athletes participate in community outreach through team, athletics or university activities; others volunteer on their own while balancing the rigorous demands of their sports and classes.

More than 50 percent of the Knights’ outreach focuses on elementary, middle and high school students. Charities that student-athletes support include the Central Florida Children’s Home, Florida Hospital and Miracle League baseball for children with disabilities.

The UCF baseball team has given back through youth baseball clinics and Autism Speaks. The men’s basketball team delivered meals to the homeless around Thanksgiving. And student-athletes from several sports participate in a pen-pal program.

Women’s tennis rising senior Jenna Doefler has written regularly to Jackson Heights Middle School students for the past two years. She has exchanged letters frequently with an eighth-grade boy and a sixth-grade girl during the past two years.

“When you’re in middle school, anything is possible, and anything that a college student says to you has a major impact – at least that’s how it was for me,” Doefler said. “The fact that I get to share my story and give some advice and learn about their lives is really rewarding. I absolutely love it.”

Every letter Doefler writes has a different subject. Sometimes she discusses the importance of balancing school and extracurricular activities, and other times she aims to discover more about her pen pal’s hobbies and interests. Some letters tackle very serious subjects.

“One of our subjects last year was about staying out of trouble and the importance of peer groups – how that has an impact on your future,” Doefler said. “My pen pal was very open with the fact that some of his friends were starting to get into drugs after school, and he really wanted to play football in high school, so he was staying out of that. They really open up.”

The time that the Knights spend with youths and charitable organizations is not just a one-and-done experience. During their four years at UCF, the student-athletes have a chance to continually connect with some of the same participants and form bonds that sometimes extend to the social media world.

Six-time All-American Jackie Coward is Facebook friends with one of the Miracle League participants she met her freshman year at UCF in 2008. The two chat occasionally, and he offers her advice on how she can improve her speed on the track.

“They look up to us as their big sisters and their big brothers, and we look at them as our younger brothers and sisters,” Coward said. “We love volunteering with the Miracle League. The kids just bring joy out of you. It’s a blessing and an honor to be a mentor to them.”

The Knights’ volunteer work extends beyond the UCF and Central Florida communities. Senior rower Chelsey Lauzon, a second-team All-American, will serve as the assistant director for Camp Blodgett this summer in her home state of Michigan. Lauzon has been affiliated with the weeklong camp at Lake Michigan for 14 years, both as a camper and a volunteer. The camp, which has existed for nearly a century, serves low-income families from the inner city.

“These kids have never seen this lake that’s 45 minutes away from them, and it’s one of biggest freshwater lakes in the world,” Lauzon said. “They’ve never been to the beach or on a nature hike, let alone climb a rock wall. Some of them have never ridden bikes before, so to get to teach an 8-year-old kid how to ride a bike is incredible.”

The Student Services/PRIDE office at UCF informs the student-athletes about volunteer service opportunities. Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members, including Lauzon, also help by spreading the word to their teammates.

“It’s great to see all these people who you work out with and go to school with collectively get together to give back,” Lauzon said. “It really brings a team together.”

The PRIDE office strives to prepare student-athletes for personal and professional success, instill an attitude of excellence on and off the playing field and provide opportunities for involvement in the local communities. The goal is for student-athletes to carry their altruism with them after the make the jump from campus into their careers or graduate school.

“Even when we graduate, we’ve built these connections if we want to continue to stay involved,” Frenkel said. “We can say we did this with UCF Athletics and that it was a great experience. I think it’s a good segue to our futures.”