Student Athletes Join Together on One Team to Make a Difference in Their Communities

By Alex Ryan | Sept. 30, 2005, 12 a.m. (ET)
TEMPE, Ariz. - In conjunction with National Make A Difference Day, student-athletes from high schools and colleges have joined together with numerous nonprofit agencies to mobilize the community to donate urgently needed new/gently used clothing and non-perishable food in support of our metro area's shelters and food banks and to replenish supplies for families impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The giant collection drive was kicked off this week, when the Arizona State University (ASU) wrestling program and high school student-athletes began handing out over 20,000 flyers and over 1,000 banner posters to schools, sports teams, designated donation collection points, and at home ASU football games. The clothing and food drive will end Saturday, October 22, 2005, which is the nationally recognized "Make A Difference Day". The goal of the drive is to secure sufficient donations to support over 5,000 families in need and increase awareness of volunteer opportunities in support of our agencies serving homeless and special needs families.

The student athletes can provide free, colorful flyers and posters to any volunteer, school, sports team, church or neighborhood group interested in helping secure donations for this drive. They have divided up the metro area in 10 regions with student and agency volunteers helping pick up filled collection boxes and delivering donated items to non-profits. They are seeking youth and parent volunteers willing to help with delivering donations to nearby designated shelters and food banks. During the last two weeks of the drive, donations can be delivered to ASU where student and adult volunteers will sort clothing and food for distribution to shelters and food banks on Saturday, October 22, 2005 (national Make A Difference Day).

The student volunteers have built a broad base of collection drive sponsors and collaborating partners, including: the ASU wrestling program, Athletes Serving Their Communities, Valley of the Sun United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA, Boy Scouts of America, Youth Service America, T. J. Pappas School for Children of Homeless Families, AmeriCorps, CARE partnership, Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, Arizona USA Wrestling Association, Arizona Stars, CTB Basketball Club, Arizona Starz Lacrosse club, Arizona Native American Coalition Against Family Violence, Gila River DCH Violence Awareness Program, Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Family, and participating shelters and food banks.

Joe Romero, a former ASU wrestler and member of the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, summarizes the coaching community's enthusiasm in his comments: "The Sunkist Kids Academy and the Arizona wrestling community are very excited, proud and committed to be a part of something 'SO GRAND'. Thank you for letting us be a part of these very important community service projects. The feeling our athletes and coaches receive when helping these kids is incredible. We enjoy seeing their smiling faces and showing we can make a difference!"

Anyone interested in volunteering or providing donations can contact: Athletes Serving Their Communities at (480) 248-6330 or by email them at

Background on Student-Athlete Service Program

Over the past eight (8) years, the collection drive's primary organizers have implemented over 20 collection drives and charity events providing support to over 10,000 special needs kids and families. The have placed particular emphasis on providing assistance to kids and families impacted by homelessness, domestic violence or needing to stay in local shelters/group homes. The first collection drive was started in May of 1998, when two brothers organized their elementary and middle schools and their sports teams to participate in a major collection drive to support domestic violence programs for the Gila River Indian Community. By the time they finished their drive, they had filled the cafeteria stage with donation bags. This resulted in the tribe sending a Medicine Man to bless their school and the student volunteers in a special ceremony. This became a life changing experience for these young student athlete volunteers, who realized their destination was to show athletes can make a difference.

When they were organizing their second drive to support the T. J. Pappas School for Children from Homeless Families, they discovered that the Pappas School had no after-school sports program. Thus, in December of 1998, they partnered with local Boys & Girls Club coaches to found the "Friendship Games" to provide these special needs kids their only opportunity to play sports, along with participating in contests, holiday gift parties, buffet luncheon, and entertainment.

The students began to recruit coaches from a variety of sports - football, basketball, wrestling, hockey, lacrosse, and soccer to participate in their various service events. This enabled them to gradually expand the scope of their service projects and increase the number of participating schools. For example, this spring they organized a citywide book drive for homeless kids. This literacy program involved student athletes from ASU and 14 elementary, middle and high schools, along with support from ASU America Reads, Volunteer Center of Maricopa County, and Youth Service America - Youth Venture. They more than doubled their original goal by collecting over 3,500 donated children's books and by recruiting over 60 youth volunteers to organize a reading festival for the Pappas kids on April 15, 2005 on National Youth Service Day.

The coaches and student athletes have gained as much from these service projects as the kids they were helping, as reflected by the comments from their recent spring service event:

Dallas Hickman (Head Coach, Sunnyslope HS football): "It was wonderful to have my players work with other athletes giving back to our community. It was not clear who got more out of the day, the volunteers or the Pappas kids."

Michael Garcia (Head Coach, Basha HS wrestling): "It was a great opportunity for our athletes to come out and help with community service. I am glad our guys got to discover first hand how they can make an important impact in the community."

Patrick Pitsch (current ASU wrestler/student-athlete): "It just makes you feel so good inside! At the end of the day, our wrestling team felt bad we had to leave these kids. I'm sure it makes their day…and I know it made ours!"

Art Dye (President, Arizona Stars): "The Arizona Stars are proud to have supported this grassroots service program since 1998. While we have produced 13 national championships and several NBA superstars, our off-the-court contributions clearly are our most accomplishment".

Sandy Burkhardt of the Pappas School summarizes how these caring athletes have truly made a difference in the community: "I am thrilled to strongly support and partner with these wonderful student volunteers. For the past 8 years, we have been recipients of their generous collection drives and charity sports events. The student athletes do a wonderful job of organizing the charity events and making our kids feel so special. These student athletes are dedicated, passionate, enthusiastic, and are wonderful role models for our youth. They are our heroes!