Athletes in the Community Archives - Athletes for Hope

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Athletes in Action

Athletes in Action

Hospital Heroes Spring Roundup

No matter what sport you play or what level you compete at, bringing a smile to a child’s face is simply unforgettable – especially when that child is in the hospital. Each year, millions of children are hospitalized in the US and in Canada, with studies showing that these children experience higher rates of depression and anxiety than those non-hospitalized.

It’s for these reasons that we started our Hospital Heroes program and why it’s one of the most popular ways for athletes to get involved, give back and feel connected to the communities they live in, or play in!

Throughout the year many of our AFH Athletes participate in hospital visits nationwide, bringing joy to children who need it the most. In our Hospital Heroes spring roundup, we’re highlighting a few of those athlete visits below!

Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital

Located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital (OLOL) is a favorite place for AFH University student-athletes at LSU and Southern to visit. From signing autographs and having the opportunity to visit patients in rooms to hosting virtual trivia in the activities room and more, student-athletes always have the best time visiting with their friends at OLOL.

Louisiana State University (LSU)

Earlier this year LSU baseball made a visit to OLOL where they visited with patients, handed out and autographed baseballs and ended their trip by hosting trivia in the activities room. A special shoutout to LSU baseball players Griffin Herring, Brady Neal, Chase Shores and Jared Jones who took time out of their busy spring season prep to spread smiles!

Southern University

Every week different student-athletes from various Southern University teams spend their time at OLOL Children’s Hospital. Through these frequent visits, the student-athletes are able to create meaningful connections that the patients can look forward to each week! From room visits and hosting trivia in the activities room to handing out school swag and more, the student-athletes at Southern are making sure to leave a lasting impact in their community.

During their latest visit, members of the Southern soccer and Southern golf team visited OLOL Children’s Hospital to help host trivia in the activities room and share a few smiles with patients who were able to leave their rooms.

Rady Children’s Hospital

Located in San Diego, California, Rady’s Children’s Hospital is another place where AFH Athletes visit both virtually and in person. At the end of March patients at Rady’s Children’s Hospital had a surprise visit from brothers and San Diego natives Cameron Thomas of the Arizona Cardinals and Zach Thomas of the Los Angeles Rams.

The Thomas brothers spent the day surprising patients in their rooms where they handed out autographed mini footballs, spent time talking with the patients and their families, and created memories that will last a lifetime.

We are so grateful for each of our AFH Athletes who are helping to create moments that matter for children in hospitals nationwide. If you are an athlete who would like to be involved with our Hospital Heroes program, please connect with us here.

AFH Paralympian Athlete Spotlight

Skiing With A Purpose: An Adaptive Sports Dream Day

At the age of 9 Lacey Henderson was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma in her knee, a rare type of soft tissue cancer that would result in the amputation of her right leg. Despite her disability, she grew up an active child, and fast-forward some years later Lacey was competing in cheerleading throughout her high school and collegiate years.

It wasn’t until she received her Division 1 athletic scholarship from the University of Denver that Henderson would discover the “world of disability.” After competing in cheerleading, she was ready for a new challenge and took up track and field in 2012.

Lacey’s father, T.J., was a national decathlon champion who went to the Olympic trails for pole vaulting, so it is no surprise that as soon as Lacey picked up Track and Field her father would challenge her to try pole vaulting. 

Photo of Paralympian Lacey Henderson smiling white holding the American flag behind her back.

Eventually, Henderson took her father up on his challenge, trying pole vaulting and instantly falling in love with the sport. Her love for pole vaulting coupled with resilience, determination, and hard work would earn her a spot on her first U.S. Paralympic Team four years later in Rio de Janeiro. What’s more, Henderson is a 9x U.S. National Champ, performing in both the long jump and 100m dash.

Aside from her athletic achievements, Henderson is a public speaker, model, Sport and Performance Psychology Professional, an advocate for disability, and, consequently, many intersectional communities. 

Henderson has written numerous published works and has served in varying capacities in local government; however, she says that her most important accomplishment is sharing her experience and knowledge to empower and spread resources with those around her. 

As an Athletes for Hope Athlete and Whole Being Ambassador, Henderson has participated in mental health conversations such as Mental Health in Parasports, joined other AFH staff members on a trip to Tanzania as a part of a Global Exchange Program, participated in several CHAMPS in-person and virtual visits, joined the Mental Health Champions Club where she shared how to reframe your anxiety, and more.

There seems to be no limit for Henderson when it comes to creating positive change and advocating for the things she believes in. For Henderson, those two worlds collided on March 4, 2024, when she spent the day with Dream on 3 and the Ignite Active Sports Team to help create a Dream Day for four children. 

The Adaptive Ski Dream Day

Written by Katie Balint, Dream on 3

The cold day started with a warm welcome from Kevin and the Ignite Adaptive Sports team. Once the kids started arriving, instructors worked to get the kids in their skis and fitted, taking their time to ensure the kids were comfortable in foreign equipment and of course having fun along the way. Nervous smiles turned to pure joy as soon as each kid got on the snow! 

Two of the participants, Miles and Lucy, were in sit skis, another participant, Jude, was putting skis on for the very first time and finally, the last participant and proficient skier, Bella, was working to fine-tune her ski skills. As each kid went off to their area to learn, it was exciting to see them each gain confidence as they mastered one level and then moved on to a bigger challenge. 

Soon they were all zooming down the mountain with their instructors and not wanting to stop for a break! As evidence, Miles continuously said “again, again, again” as soon as he reached the group after one of his runs. Lucy came back down hitting the group with some snowballs and was excited to tell us about a tunnel that she and her instructors skied through. Jude was gaining his confidence and zig-zagging down like it wasn’t his first time on skis and Bella was cruising down with her instructors and the wind in her hair!

One of the many highlights of the day was being able to ski with Paralympian Lacey Henderson. A couple of the kids were wide-eyed when they were told Lacey was the Paralympic athlete there to hang out and ski with them, but all of their nerves being around a big-time athlete went out the window when they realized how awesome Lacey was. Her easy-going, fun-having attitude boosted the day, and she was a great role model for the kids to be around, encouraging them all along the way.

Lacey is very adventurous, she showed me that anything is possible no matter what shape or form. Lacey, Ignite, and Dream on 3, opened up a world I didn’t think I’d see again. I can’t wait to get back on the slopes!

Lucy, Dream Day Participant

Soaking in their runs together, Miles and Lucy were especially excited to show Lacey some of the spots they had found at the top of the mountain, where spectators couldn’t see. The day was a huge success and all the kids wanted to know when they could go skiing again. 

From the outside, it was something special to see the kids’ faces light up when they realized that they could quite literally conquer the mountain in front of them and it was even more special connecting with and seeing the smiles that extended to the faces of parents. 

As a parent of a child with an acquired disability, there were so many doors I thought would be so hard for her [Lucy] to enter. Starting over, learning everything again, seemed challenging, to say the least. Lucy is not one to shy away from physical challenges, but I knew we had a long road ahead of us. I know she can do anything she puts her mind to, so it was never a matter of if, but when. Connecting with Lacey, and having this opportunity, really showed her that it is even more possible than we realized. You gave her hope.

Jennifer, Dream Day Participant Lucy’s Mother

A couple of hours together and the sense of community and connection from strangers was so impactful. After hearing from a couple of the parents, who at one point, were questioning what the future looks like for the kids, they were so appreciative of being able to have the community that was on the mountain that day.

The ski day was so awesome and so fun! It was fun to even share the fitting experience, especially with the unique challenges that having a disability can bring with putting on ski gear. It was a blast having Lucy and her squad show me where the teepee on the mountain was, and ski along with them blasting Taylor Swift! I remember being young and not having any opportunity to see other adults with disabilities achieve anything from putting on a ski boot to flying down a mountain so it was a gift to be able to show and share that with our group on that perfect day!

Lacey Henderson, Paralympian

The day was indeed, a success, thanks to the amazing organizations and people that came together to make it happen. 

Sport For Good Highlight

AFH Sport for Good Highlight: National Women’s Soccer League

Over the years, so many inspiring women’s soccer players have made an impact with Athletes for Hope. As the NWSL season kicked off this past weekend, we wanted to tell you who we are rooting for. 

Orlando Pride defender and former USWNT player Megan Montefusco has been a vital member of Athletes for Hope. In her role as a Community Outreach Coordinator for Athletes for Hope, Montefusco recruited many collegiate and professional teammates to join Athletes for Hope to make a difference.

She also helped bring AFH University to her alma mater UCLA. As an AFH athlete, Montefusco has participated in CHAMPS On-Demand and Hospital Heroes visits, volunteered with Marathon Kids in Boston, helped children stay active during the pandemic, promoted self care for the Mental Health Champions Club. Montefusco has continuously made a difference in children’s lives and allowed AFH to help even more communities. 

One of Montefusco’s teammates that she recruited, Orlando Pride midfielder Viviana Villacorta, has given back to kids in the Orlando community, making a virtual CHAMPS visit to Palm Beach County PE

Bev Yanez made her head coaching debut this weekend for Racing Louisville versus the Orlando Pride and has always been a great mentor for other athletes.

Yanez, a former NWSL player and assistant coach, has continuously advocated for athlete mental health. She is an AFH Mental Health Ambassador for the Whole Being Athlete program and has participated in multiple AFH panels about athlete mental health and life after sports

Chicago Red Stars & USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher has been a longtime AFH Athlete, mainly specializing in visiting children in the hospital. Naeher has enjoyed her many Hospital Heroes visits and even helped AFH and partner Starlight Children’s Hospital deliver festive hospital gowns to Comers Children’s Hospital. The star goalie and her sister also created a video for CHAMPS giving kids a fitness game to play at home during the pandemic. 

Defenders Lauren Barnes of the Seattle Reign FC and Katie Lind of the Houston Dash joined AFH podcast Conversations with Women in Sports for Women’s History Month with Goal Five’s Lindsey Jones. They discussed the value of female role models in soccer and business, the growth of professional women’s soccer, and equal pay and treatment across gender in sports. 

As the NWSL begins its 12th year with a new media deal and more hype than ever before,  we are rooting for all of the amazing players in the league who are making a difference.

AFH Olympic Athlete Spotlight

Winning with a heart of gold

Star soccer forward and National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Carin Jennings-Gabarra is more than just her accolades on the pitch. While she is known for being a part of the United States “Triple-Edged Sword” of attackers in its victory at the 1991 Women’s World Cup, it’s the time spent in her community that she cherishes the most.

Growing up with two older brothers who were “always playing sports” was the catalyst for Gabarra’s passion. She remembers falling in love with soccer in 1973, the very first time she played.

Back then, when girls were just getting the opportunity to play organized sport, it’s hard to fathom that Gabarra would go on to receive the first-ever Women’s World Cup Adidas Golden Ball Award as the best player at the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup or become an Olympic Gold Medalist.

In fact, it was at the Olympic Games in Atlanta that she realized how many athletes give back and “use the platform they have to be a voice for those who have no voice.” When she retired from the national team after the Olympic Games, she had 119 full international appearances and 56 goals, ranking her third of all time in caps and tied for third in goals.

Being an alumni of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, Gabarra has been surrounded by countless teammates and coaches who invest in their communities by giving back to those in need.

One such teammate is none other than AFH Founding Athlete Mia Hamm, who most recently was the inspriation and first recpient of the Athletes for Hope Inaugural Mia Hamm Founders Award at the 2023 Play for Good event. Gabarra celebrated with her teammate Mia and other USWNT Alumni at the event which aimed to raise funds for AFH’s programs.

Outside of the relationships she has bulit from her time playing professionally, Gabarra is giving back to the next generation of women’s soccer players through her love of coaching.

Her coaching career began in 1987 at Westmont College in Santa Barbara where she guided the Warriors to a 6-10-0 record as head coach. In 1988, Gabarra moved on to the Ivy League where she served as an assitant coach at Harvard.

In 1993 Gabarra arrived at Navy, building the Navy soccer program from the bottom level to, now, one of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s most competitive teams. Along with a long list of other coaching accolades, Gabarra joined an elite group of coaches when she won her 300th career game during the 2015 season, further staking her claim as the Patriot League’s all-time wins leader.

When looking towards the future of women and girls in soccer, Gabarra is passionate about leveling the playing field and making soccer an accessible and equitable sport for all.

“I want girls to follow their dreams, younger girls to play confidently and to feel like they’re accepted and that they’re athletes, not female athletes, and be able to compete and play at any level they choose.”

Despite her busy schedule, Gabarra says that community service must be a priority, noting that she has “truly loved each service project” she has been a part of. While she calims to have no favorites, she says she does have a passion for volunteering at soccer clinics within underserved communities.

For athletes who may be retired or just starting out on their philanthropy journey, Gabarra’s advice is simple.

“My advice to other athletes is to turn to organizations such as Athletes for Hope and utilize them to give back in various ways. There is always time to give back to the community. It must be a priority.”

AFH University Service Recognition

February 2024 | Student-Athlete & Team of the Month

Each month we ask our AFH University campus liaisons for nominations of student-athletes and teams who excelled in service. Through our monthly nominations, we can acknowledge all of the good our student-athletes and teams are doing in their communities.

During February, our Student-Athlete and Team of the Month award winners demonstrated consistency in volunteering with various causes in their communities.

February Student-Athlete of the Month

Ckelby Givens

Our February Student-Athlete of the Month is Ckelby Givens from Southern University football. Ckelby was nominated by his peers because of his desire to change the stigma of mental health across his campus.

“Ckelby was eager to join the mental health panel focused on Black history to discuss his upbringing, experiences and the absence of discussions aimed at dismantling stigma within his community. His goal is to alter that narrative on the Southern University campus.

In episode 1 of the AFH University Mental Health U panel series, Ckelby joined other student-athletes from Southern University and Davidson College to discuss the mental health resources the student-athletes use on & off of campus, the importance of having people you can talk to, how the stigma of mental health is changing, and more. Watch episode 1 here.

Ckelby is honored to be named February’s Student-Athlete of the Month and is excited to continue spreading mental health awareness across his campus and beyond!

February Team of the Month

Howard Women’s Lacrosse

The February Team of the Month is the Howard women’s lacrosse team. The team was nominated by their peers for their consistent time spent volunteering at a local elemntary school where they are helping bring leadership skills, physical fitness and mental health lessons to children through the CHAMPS program.

Howard women’s lacrosse has been visiting DCPCS – Brightwood Campus to conduct CHAMPS sessions. They have done four sessions with 2nd and 4th graders to discuss courage and honesty. The consistent visits have been invaluable to the children at the school and the women on the team have attended with such excitement and commitment.

The Howard women’s lacrosse team has historically been involved in service throughout the Washington, D.C. community. The team has participated in MLK Day of Service volunteer opportunities, packaging meals at local food banks, distributing food and clothing to those less fortunate, creating cancer awareness dedication games, and more!.

Aside from community service, the women’s lacrosse team are passionate about using their voices to make a difference. Several team member have participated in AFH University mental health panel series to bring awareness to athlete mental health, the stigma of mental health in the Black community and the mental health of women both in and out of sport.

The team is happy to receive this award and recognition from their peers as they get ready for more community service opportunities in March!

AFH News

AFH’s Influential Olympians

Every year in March, we celebrate International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate women’s achievements and forge a more inclusive world for women of all ages.

From our AFH Founding Athletes and our newly formed Athlete Leadership Council to our Board of Directors, Athletes for Hope is proud to recognize the influential women Olympians of AFH who are passionate about creating a more equitable world in and out of sport. 

From supporting young women in sports and creating safe recreational spaces, to STEM education, Title IX, and more, the future is equitable for all.

Mia Hamm

AFH Founding Athlete

Arguably one of the world’s greatest athletes of all time, Mia Hamm’s accolades include 2 Olympic gold medals, 1 Olympic silver medal, 2 FIFA World Cups, 4 NCAA National Championships and AFH’s 2023 Mia Hamm Founding Athlete Award. Aside from her impressive sport resume, in 1999 she created the Mia Hamm Foundation whose mission includes raising funds and awareness for families in need of a marrow or cord blood transplant and the development of opportunities for young women in sports. 

The Mia Hamm Foundation is committed to furthering the groundbreaking growth of female participation in sports that has occurred under Title IX, the landmark 1972 legislation that bans sex discrimination in academics and athletics at educational institutions across the country.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

AFH Founding Athlete

Having been named by Sports Illustrated for Women as the ‘Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century,’ it’s no surprise that Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s accolades include 6 Olympic medals and a track and field world record. After she retired from sport, Jackie created the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation which works to ensure that every East St. Louis-area youth is given the opportunity to achieve greatness and succeed in academics, athletics and leadership.

Born and raised in East St. Louis, Jackie is committed to ensuring that all children have access to high-quality after-school programs, safe recreational places within their communities, and caring adults to help them achieve their dreams.

Katie Ledecky

Athlete Leadership Council Member

Katie Ledecky, a ten-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, is recognized as one of the most dominant athletes of all time. Often called the ‘First Lady of Freestyle’, she has broken 16 World Records and 37 American Records in her career. In 2022, she received Athletes for Hope’s Community Hero Award. Out of the pool, Ledecky is an advocate for education, gender equality, and the empowerment of young athletes. 

Having been involved in community service since the age of 15, Ledecky is most passionate about education. She has recently partnered with Panasonic and Discovery Education on an equal-opportunity STEM program called STEM Forward. The program encourages young students to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math. To learn more about how Ledecky gives back to her community, click here.

Julie Foudy

AFH Board Member

Julie Foudy is a retired professional soccer player who spent 17 years as a member of the US Women’s National Team, 13 of them as a captain. She is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Olympic Silver Medalist, and two-time Women’s World Cup Champion. Julie finished her National Team career with 45 goals, 59 assists and 272 international appearances (caps) for the USA. Her 272 caps rank third in the world all-time, male or female. She was inducted in the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007. A current analyst for ABC/ESPN and the NBC Olympics, director of her Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academies and a motivational speaker, Julie is most proud of the difference she has made off the field.

In 1997, the world governing body of soccer, FIFA, awarded her the FIFA Fair Play Award, the first woman and American to receive the award, for her work against child labor in the stitching of soccer balls. Julie was the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) from 2000-2002, served on the WSF Board of Directors for 7 years and was a WSF advocacy consultant for two years, with a focus on Title IX, childhood obesity, and athletes’ rights issues. She also served as a member for the Commission on Title IX, appointed by President Bush and Secretary Paige and has been honored numerous times for her work on behalf of Title IX.

Benita Fitzgerald Mosely

AFH Board Member

Benita Fitzgerald Mosley is a 15-time All-American, four (4) NCAA titles holder, the first American woman to win gold in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1984 Olympic Games, and also a Gold Medal recipient at the Pan-American Games.

Since turning her focus to sports marketing and administration in the 1990s, Benita served in leadership roles at the Special Olympics, Olympic Games, Women’s Sports Foundation, Women in Cable and Telecommunications, USA Track and Field and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.  In 2016, Benita left the USOC and became the CEO of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA, where she was responsible for advancing the Laureus mission to change the lives of youth and strengthen communities through the power of sport. She is the current Chief Executive Officer at Multiplying Good, a nonprofit organization that helps people discover their ability to bring about positive change, deliver the skills they need to do it well, and, by validating their impact, inspire them to do more. 

Rachel Godino

AFH Board Member

Rachel Godino competed in the 1992 Olympics in Ice Dancing. In 2000, She was elected by her peers as the Chair of the US Olympic Committee (USOC) Athletes’ Advisory Council. Gidno has also served on the USOC Executive Committee, USOC Board of Directors and Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee Board of Trustees. In 2003, Rachel testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce regarding the state of the Olympic movement and governance.

Rachel currently serves on the Sports Advisory Board for the Palm Beach North Athletic Foundation, a non-profit organization that is committed to forging strategic partnerships with individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to further their vision and philosophy of “recreation for all.” Their inclusion of non-traditional sports creates new pathways for college scholarships by building skills in sports that can open doors for students that might otherwise be closed.

From the vision and mission set forth by our AFH Founding Athletes over 17 years ago, Athletes for Hope is committed to creating a more equitable and just future for all, both in and out of sport.