Fairfield Now - Winter 2007
Giving to Those Who Give
By Jill Kasiewicz Caseria, M.A.'04
|Alison Sexton (left), senior associate director of athletics, and Wylie Smith Blake, community outreach coordinator in Campus Ministry, collaborated in helping student-athletes find an appropriate outlet for their 2006-07 community-service project.|
"No matter what anyone has to say about our involvement in the war, everyone on our team appreciates what our troops are doing," says Ahna Johnson '09 of Hamden, Conn. "We're here in America, surrounded by our families and friends, playing soccer for Fairfield University, while they're over there in conditions we can't imagine. We want to say to the troops, 'Thank you for what you're doing.'"
Johnson, a double major in physics and information systems, is an avid member of the women's varsity soccer team. Last spring, she and a teammate were among several Fairfield University student-athletes who rallied 19 teams to contribute to a donation of goods for U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Each year, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a group that includes two representatives from each of the University's now-20 varsity sports, selects a service activity that allows students to do something for the community. But in fall 2006, SAAC members turned their attention to the men and women stationed thousands of miles away. They decided to collect goods and create care packages to send to U.S. troops in Iraq, possibly in time for Christmas.
Enter Wylie Smith Blake, community outreach coordinator in Campus Ministry. She researched a number of organizations for the Athletics Department, and ultimately recommended a Connecticut-based nonprofit, Give2The Troops. Its website included lists of items useful to the troops that could withstand the effects of shipping and hold up over time, and its track record was excellent.
Within athletics, the project took on a life of its own, and soon morphed into a competition (what else?) between the various teams. Every pair of SAAC representatives had just two weeks to come up with creative ways to encourage teammates to fill two or three 12x12 boxes. Sean McGonigle '08, a finance/accounting double major, and co-captain Rob Devine '08 made the task easy for their swimming and diving counterparts. They asked everyone to donate what they could - five dollars, ten dollars, or more. Pooling the money, they bought Give2theTroops-recommended items including sunflower seeds, hand wipes, batteries, and toiletries.
During the process, each team decided to personalize its donation as well. Taking a walk to the University bookstore, team representatives purchased tee-shirts, shorts, and hats. About half also took time to compose personal letters to the soldiers. "When I was sitting down to write, I thought, what do I possibly say to a soldier?" recalls McGonigle. "Finally it hit me: words of encouragement. It was sobering to think that people my age or younger were over there."
|Among the many varsity athletes whose teams "competed" last year to fill boxes destined for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan were (l-r): Sean McGonigle '08 (swimming and diving), Caitlin Savoy '08 (women's soccer), and Janna Breitenwischer '08 (women's soccer).|
What Campus Ministry's Smith-Blake ended up coordinating was the delivery of 40 boxes of donated goods to Give2TheTroops, which its founder, Andi Grant, discovered piled in her driveway one day when she returned home. Upon opening the boxes, she saw that each contained a personal note to the soldiers. Grant remembers how her emotions spilled over when she saw not only items from her online postings, but brand new Fairfield University sports gear - tee-shirts, shorts, sweatshirts, hats. "The clothes were what made this donation distinct. Everything in these boxes was in perfect condition - with tags!" she says. "I didn't have to take anything out of any box. I sent it all over there."
Grant started Give2TheTroops when her husband, a Marine, was first deployed to Iraq in 2002. Since then, she has checked and sorted items sent to or dropped off at her house, determining which soldiers in what combat zones would benefit most from them. "We focus on sending necessities, but also reminders from home," Grant explains. "Everything we send is new, something you would include in a care package or gift basket to a loved one."
Grant made sure the items from Fairfield went to soldiers who could really use them, including a petite young soldier who was sent a pair of Fairfield University shorts, size small. All in all, nearly 500 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan received items from Fairfield University's varsity athletic teams.
"The students really enjoyed doing this collection," notes Alison Sexton, senior associate director of athletics. "It was something beneficial - a way for them to be donors - and they were happy to do so for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan."
In recognition of this tremendous effort, Give2TheTroops honored Fairfield University for its "Stag Boxes for the Soldiers" campaign during a special ceremony in September. "What impressed me about Fairfield University's donation is that it was obvious the students went above and beyond to collect 40 boxes' worth of items," says Grant. "From the multiple collections and the type of drive - a competition - to the thoughtful way they decided to fill the boxes, it was obvious they were thinking about the troops."
Field hockey player Liz Thomas '08, from Wakefield, R.I., a double major in international business and Spanish, and her teammates, filled the corners of their boxes with items they bought together at the supermarket, plus team shirts and issues of The Fairfield Mirror. They also took the time to write to the soldiers. "I not only thanked them for what they were doing, but also told them how significant their sacrifice is to us," she says.
Adds Johnson of women's soccer, "Anything that we could do to show the troops that they have our support and to say thanks for what they're doing was certainly worth the effort." McGonigle agrees. "The project helped me remember to look at life's big picture. I'm so involved with swimming and homework, sometimes it's easy to forget about the world around me. It was nice to be able to do this, and to make a difference to at least one person."
Editor's Note: The Give2TheTroops website is www.give2thetroops.org
Jill Kasiewicz Caseria, M.A.'04, is a contributing writer from Newtown, Conn.