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September 9, 2013

Tech student-athletes make a difference with summertime service

By: Reyna Gilbert-Lowry

Members of the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team lived up to the university’s “Ut Prosim” motto (“That I May Serve”) by taking a day during their preseason to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity in Roanoke. Photos courtesy of Reyna Gilbert-Lowry

While many students were enjoying the final days of summer before the start of classes, several Virginia Tech student-athletes made time to take part in local volunteer opportunities in the Christiansburg and Roanoke communities.

In July, football student-athletes T.J. Shaw, Devin Vandyke, Ronny Vandyke, Antone Exum, Luther Maddy and Kyshoen Jarrett visited the New River Valley Juvenile Detention Home in Christiansburg. This summer, the deputy superintendent implemented the “Character Counts” character education program, which is centered on basic values called the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. The Virginia Tech student-athletes were asked to discuss the topic of fairness and also share how their experiences on the field have shaped their lives.

The group immediately connected with the youth by sharing their own experiences growing up and how, collectively, they came to the realization that something had to change for them to reach their goals of becoming a student-athlete at Virginia Tech. Shaw has recently been asked to share his story and speak to local youth groups about the importance of making positive choices. Ronny and Devin Vandyke shared how their strong faith has kept them on the path to reaching their goals.

When I met the kids, I was really impressed with how they gave us their attention and were glued into what I had to say,” Ronny Vandyke said. “It's unfortunate that they made decisions in their lives which led them to juvenile detention. At the end of our visit, I shared with them that whatever they did in their past doesn’t define who they are and that God has a plan no matter the circumstances.”

The Tech athletes were grateful for the opportunity to interact with the kids and provide them with a positive message for the day.

Members of the football team weren’t the only ones volunteering within the community. Each preseason, the Tech women’s soccer team explores innovative ways to increase team cohesion in preparation for the upcoming season. On the morning of Aug. 14, the team took team-building literally and volunteered through Habitat for Humanity in the Roanoke Valley. The project sites, located in the west end area of Roanoke, were part of Roanoke’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which is designed to partner with residents to address their building needs and also improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods.

The student-athletes were joined by the entire coaching staff as well as the team’s athletic trainer, Katie Baer, department sports psychologist Dr. Gary Bennett, and Reyna Gilbert-Lowry, assistant athletics director for student life.

The Habitat for Humanity build was a fun, worthwhile experience for our players to look beyond soccer, academics and their daily life,” head coach Charles “Chugger” Adair said. “The players were able to get down to business and help families in need while trying to figure out how to do things normally outside their comfort zone. We thoroughly enjoyed this experience.

When they arrived at each site, they were greeted by the project manager and the homeowner. Habitat homeowners invest hundreds of hours of their own labor into building their Habitat house and the houses of others. The team immediately saw how committed the homeowners were to being involved in the successful completion of their homes. This experience was not only humbling to see, but also showed what the power of teamwork can accomplish, according to redshirt junior Shannon Mayrose.

The team split up into two groups to work at different construction sites located about two blocks away from one another. The first group got to work hoisting wooden frames from the ground onto the second floor of the home and building one of the second floor exterior walls. The construction at the second home was further along, and that group worked alongside the homeowner to install windows on the first and second floors.

By lunchtime, there was visible progress at both homes, and the groups were proud of what they had accomplished.

Habitat for Humanity was great!” senior Jazmine Reeves said. “It was an experience for an awesome cause. Along with helping others in the community, we did a lot that we could easily relate to our team and situations we may encounter.

Virginia Tech student-athletes are doing more than competing in their sports and going to classes. As these examples can attest, they are living out the school’s “Ut Prosim” motto (“That I may serve”) in their daily lives as well.