Student-athletes embrace volunteering

Gophers athletes volunteered nearly 15,000 hours in one calendar year.

Sam Kraemer

Free time can be hard to come by for student-athletes between hours of practice and games on top of academic commitments.

But for some, dedicating free time to volunteer work serves a significant role in their experience at the University of Minnesota.

More than 320 of the school’s roughly 750 student-athletes volunteered for more than 10 hours with Maroon and Gold Impacting the Community, or M.A.G.I.C., last year.

Volunteers from the program participated in 278 events between April 2013 and April 2014, logging nearly 15,000 total hours of volunteering.

“We’re always on the move trying to do something and make an impact on the community,” said Anissa Lightner, assistant director of student-athlete development at Minnesota.

M.A.G.I.C. participates in a wide variety of events, which include collecting food donations for charity, assisting homeless shelters and reading books to children, Lightner said.

It’s up to the student-athletes to choose which events they volunteer at, she said.

“Pretty much whatever our students are interested in doing, we’ll try to find a way to make it happen,” Lightner said.

Katie Richardson, a senior infielder on the softball team, and Luke McAvoy, a redshirt junior offensive lineman on the football team, are two of the many student-athletes who volunteer with the program.

Richardson, who didn’t volunteer much in high school, said M.A.G.I.C. gave her an opportunity to try something new.

“[Volunteering] wasn’t really at my disposal like it is here,” Richardson said. “When I got here, I had a few good seniors that were involved with M.A.G.I.C., and they got me involved in it.”

Richardson said she thinks volunteering is one of the best aspects of the student-athlete experience at the University.

“I have friends that play [sports] at other colleges and universities around the country, and they don’t quite get the same experience,” she said.

She recalled her recent work with Hearts for Hammers in which a handful of Gophers helped renovate the home of a local veteran.

“I think it was the first time I’ve gone through a program here where you could actually work on a house and start something and finish it, see the end product, and know you physically changed something as well as changed his life,” Richardson said.

Unlike Richardson, McAvoy had a realm of volunteering experience before arriving on campus.

During his senior year of high school, McAvoy began work with the leadership program Helping Youth Progress and Excel. He asked the Gophers’ director of football operations, Adam Clark, if he could join a similar volunteer group when he enrolled at Minnesota.

“I asked him if there were opportunities to do that sort of thing here because I think it’s important to give back to the community that supports us,” McAvoy said.

He said giving back as a student-athlete is underrated, mentioning the HopeDay Festival as one of his favorite events.

The festival serves as the fall kickoff event for M.A.G.I.C. where children with life-threatening diseases and their families come to the University for a day of activities. Gophers players from all teams make appearances.

“It’s almost like a fair,” McAvoy said. “And it’s great to see the kids just be kids for a day.”

Richardson said she’s hopeful her time with M.A.G.I.C. will have a lasting impact on her life after college.

“It’s something I’ll look back on, be proud of and hopefully do for the rest of my life.”