Dec. 14, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - As part of the Yale Athletics Department's commitment to giving back to the New Haven community, 31 of Yale's varsity sports participated in the Holiday Gift Giving Initiative this holiday season. The Initiative, just one of many efforts by the Thomas W. Ford '42 Community Outreach Program to get Yale student-athletes involved in the New Haven community, had Yale varsity athletic teams adopt a needy family from an area school and then purchase gifts for those children. Gifts were delivered to Vincent E. Mauro Magnet School on Friday, with another delivery to Wexler/Grant Community School scheduled for next week.
The effort was extremely successful this year, with 31 of Yale's 35 varsity sports participating. The Holiday Gift Giving Initiative, which was coordinated by junior gymnast Allison Mak, was entirely student run, with a representative from each varsity sport coordinating their team's efforts.
"This year, we have 31 of 35 varsity sports teams participating," Mak said. "I am really excited about this, because many more teams are involved this year than last year, which means the word is getting around the whole athletic department and we are even closer to reaching our goal of having all teams participate. I think the high level of participation and enthusiasm of our varsity teams reflects well on the Community Outreach Committee and our involvement with the New Haven community both during the holidays and year-round."
The Holiday Gift Giving Initiative has been steadily increasing in scope and size. In 2006, eight varsity sports teams participated, while 2007 saw 17 sports and one community organization help out in the effort, which was solely connected with Vincent E. Mauro Magnet School.
For each sport, the Initiative is a good opportunity for teams to come together as a group and work on a project that gives back to the community. Each team is assigned a family and receives a wish list from the children in the family. The teams then bond by raising money, shopping for gifts, wrapping them, and then delivering them to the participating schools.
Senior football player Larry Abare, who helped deliver the gifts to Vincent E. Mauro Magnet School, emphasized that the Initiative is a team effort.
"It is an important event and a chance for our team to give back to the New Haven community. Everyone participates in helping fundraise so we can buy gifts for the underprivileged families."
Jordan Skolnick, the Yale Athletics department development and community outreach assistant, views the Holiday Gift Giving Initiative as only a small portion of the athletic department's involvement in the New Haven community.
"The Thomas W. Ford '42 Community Outreach Program is a vital part of the athletic department and our goal is to connect Yale Athletics and Yale student-athletes with the New Haven community," Skolnick said. "In particular, the Holiday Gift Giving Initiative is a special program because it gives families and children the opportunity to have the happiest of holidays. This program shows how special our student-athletes are and how much they care about the community. There's nothing quite like seeing hundreds of presents bring smiles to children's faces."
The Yale Athletics Thomas W. Ford '42 Community Outreach Program is very involved with Vincent E. Mauro Magnet School beyond the Holiday Gift Drive. Yale student-athletes also tutor students at the school once-a-week through the Bulldog Buddies Program. The New Haven Tennis Outreach program is also involved at Vincent E. Mauro Magnet School and has members of the Yale tennis team both tutor and give tennis lessons to students at the school.
Sophomore lacrosse player Alfonso Costa was one of the Yale student-athletes that helped out with the Holiday Gift Initiative and delivered the gifts to Vincent E. Mauro Elementary School. Costa is very familiar with the school as he also participates in the Bulldog Buddies program.
"This event meant a lot to me because I have been volunteering as a Bulldog Buddy at the Vincent E. Mauro School every Friday this entire first semester, so knowing many of the children and what type of backgrounds they share definitely gave me a great feeling about what all of the teams did to make sure today was a success," Costa said. "My favorite part of the whole experience was seeing the eyes of the parents when they received the gifts for their children, as they were so thankful and appreciative. We were very proud to represent Yale Athletics in such a great setting."
Another Yale student-athlete that participated in the Holiday Gift Giving initiative was junior Tess Gerrand. Gerrand, a member of the women's crew team who has been an NCAA Champion in the varsity eight the past two years, views the Initiative as another way that the women's crew team can give back to the community beyond the Community Rowing Program.
"The Yale Athletics department puts a lot of effort into community outreach and the Holiday Gift Giving Initiative is yet another activity that Yale Women's Crew is proud to be involved in," Gerrand said. "I think the Initiative provides another great opportunity for the Yale community to get involved and give back to the people of New Haven."
As well as getting satisfaction from helping out the community, the Initiative is a fun experience for the teams that get involved and come together around the shopping. Senior Jamie Van Horne, the captain of the Yale women's basketball team, said that shopping with others in mind was a great experience.
"Just shopping for the kids and imagining how happy they will be was definitely my favorite part," Van Horne said. "We are all so fortunate to be a part of Yale and participating in the holiday gift drive is just one way we can give back and also represent Yale in a positive light."
Other programs put on by the Thomas W. Ford '42 Community Outreach Program include the National Youth Sports Program, Squash Haven, Fall and Spring Youth Days and the Yale Athletics Health Fair and Community Dinner.
Report filed by Caleb Dorfman '09, Yale Sports Publicity