Athletes in the Community Archives - Page 3 of 6 - Athletes for Hope

Casey Zeller visits University of Georgia’s Camp Kesem

Casey Zeller visits University of Georgia’s Camp Kesem

Camp Kesem is a LIVESTRONG Foundation funded camp for the children of cancer patients. You may have seen Casey’s enthusiastic tweets about her trip to University of Georgia’s Camp Kesem this past week. We followed up with Casey about her experience.

Q: Why is giving back important to you?

I love to connect, encourage, and support people especially those who are struggling so they know they are not alone. I feel that everyone should be grateful for what they have and not take having a “normal” life for granted. I know I am blessed in so many ways, therefore it is important to me to help others when I can.

Q: What did you do on your recent trip to Camp Kesem UGA?

I chose to speak to the camp about my struggles as an athlete and my determination to make my one Olympic dream come true, only to find that I was meant to fulfill a different dream. I encouraged them to not become discouraged when they don’t receive what they want most, yet to be open minded enough to realize that it’s because there is something better waiting for them. We then played crab soccer with the camp and took pictures afterwards.

Q: What would you say to another athlete interested in giving back this summer?

Sometimes it’s hard to find time in your busy training and competition schedule to share your experience with others. But once you do, it is more fulfilling than you can imagine and it also drives you more toward your goal. So take a little bit out of your day to do a selfless act and share your story with those who need it the most.

Curious about Camp Kesem’s mission to help the children of cancer patients? Interested in heading back to camp for a few hours this summer? Contact AFH today for more information.

How UVA’s Elite Womens’ Rowing Team and Jack Jouett Middle School Strengthen Each Other Through Care

When student-run Athletes For Hope at the University of Virginia (“AFH-UVA”) launched its Teams in School pilot program, it was received warmly by the Albemarle County Office of the Superintendent of Schools and Dr. Bernard Hairston, the Executive Director in charge of community programs. Co-founded by rising sophomores Kimberly Levinstein and Mitchell Wellman in cooperation with the national Athletes for Hope organization, AFH-UVA’s initial goal was to introduce varsity UVA athletes as a team to underserved school communities in a manner that would foster long-term continuity. When Principal Kathryn Baylor of Jack Jouett Middle School (grades 6, 7, 8) expressed interest in serving as the pilot middle school, AFH-UVA offered the UVA Womens’ Rowing Team the chance to be Jack Jouett’s partner. The team embraced the opportunity.

Tenacious rising senior rower Caroline Burke ran with the idea. “NCAA athletes can have a massive impact on kids with a very small gift of their time and caring,” she told me. She had the strong support of Coach Kevin Sauer, UVA’s rowing coach of 26 years who recently led his athletes to two team NCAA national championships (2012, 2010). “Student athletes are given extraordinary opportunities,” he said. “They have the opportunity to give back to their community and they need to lead it themselves.”

Principal Baylor told me that Jack Jouett is an ideal partner for three reasons. First, 46% of its students qualify for free-reduced lunch; second, the middle school is within a stone’s throw of the rowing team’s boathouse; and finally, the school’s progressive staff embraces individual determination, persistence, and grit as guiding principles for its students. “Those are a rower’s qualities,” she added.

The rowers arrive weekly–the team devotes 30 woman-hours per week to the school–and have been paired with students who can use one-on-one attention. Sixth and seventh graders are given preference to promote long-term continuity during their middle school years. Continuity will be bolstered immeasurably by AFH-UVA’s announcement last month that the UVA Men’s Soccer and Field Hockey teams committed to adopt Agnor-Hurt Elementary School, which “feeds” Jack Jouett.

Several teachers praised the rowers’ weekly regularity and the fact that the emphasis of the tutoring is often on building personal relationships with the children in addition to academics. According to Ms. Laina Hanchak (6th and 7th grade Science), “middle school is when kids get swallowed up, even with the best preparation. The stability the rowers provide these children gives them a personal advocate during one of the most tumultuous times of life.” After tutoring sessions, rowers can pull teachers aside and report on needs that they learn of or are able to identify through their personal bond. “The rowers’ presence is invaluable for students who have lots of discontinuity in their lives,” 6th grade Language Arts teacher Victoria Megginson told me.

Lizzy Youngling, a rising senior rower, says she has become a good friend to a young student from Kenya. “We get plenty of schoolwork done, but she has learned to open up to me and trust me. She wants to be a singer and actress and we talk about reaching her goals.”

The rowing team has also had an impact on the entire school through special projects. The middle school is home to students from an astounding 33 countries. During UVA’s spring break, the team painted brand new ceiling tiles with the flags of every country represented at the school. The tiles now hang proudly. The flags are a learning experience about diversity for all who frequent the library, but they are especially important to students from those countries who want to assimilate at a young age while still taking pride in their countries of origin.

Teachers mention increased motivation, self-assurance, and greater classroom confidence and participation among other visible results of the program.

“And these children are so proud of their rowers,” Ms. Kimberly Ann Gibson (7th grade Language Arts) told me. “Everyone wants a rower and our kids are now very curious about rowing, which they probably wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.”

Coach Sauer himself volunteers weekly, as do assistant coaches Ms. Brett Sickler and Joshua Gautreau, world and national champions, respectively. According to Sauer, there are distinct similarities between teaching his student and his rowers.

“You teach perseverance. You teach that it’s not easy, but if you keep at it, you’ll get where you want to be. The key to teaching and being a coach is care and compassion. These form a platform from which you can push people further than they think they can go. It doesn’t matter if it’s rowing or going to college or being the best drywaller or electrician. Find your gift and challenge yourself every day. Mentors who care can teach this.”

It’s not unusual for the warm cry “The rowers are here!” to emanate from the middle school’s classrooms. To put it mildly, the rowers are loved, and their students teach them too. Coach Sauer emphasized that most UVA rowers come from backgrounds vastly different than the kids at Jack Jouett. “Our team’s motto is Entitled to Nothing. Grateful for Everything. When these rowers volunteer, they understand the meaning of that, and their eyes are opened by developing personal relationships and realizing that these amazing middle school students are so close to their university community.”

Emily Pik, a graduating senior and Captain of this past year’s team, may have said it best. As she prepares to don cap and gown and walk down Thomas Jefferson’s Lawn this month and then into New York City’s world of consulting, she reflected on her experience at Jack Jouett.

“Graduation can be a stressful time, but my student taught me to recapture my youthful exuberance and to live day by day.”

The caring flows in both directions.

In the coming weeks, rowers and middle school students alike will scatter for the Summer.

In the Fall, however, Jack Jouett Middle School will come alive for a new school year. Nearby, oars will once again skim the water. And that familiar cry–“The rowers are here!“–will fill the hallways.

Source: Ben Kerschberg, Huffington Post (May 7, 2014).

Indy Driver Pippa Mann Races for a Cure

British racing driver and AFH athlete Pippa Mann partnered with Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading breast cancer organization, for this year’s Indianapolis 500 in a groundbreaking campaign.  Pippa showed support during the month of May for Susan G Komen by wearing a  pink helmet and firesuit while her car had the Susan G Komen name and logo on the side pods in lieu of a traditional title sponsor.

Speaking about the partnership, Mann said: “This entire project started with the idea of simply taking my red crash helmet, and turning it pink to support the cause, and it has grown into something fairly amazing in a very short space of time.  My Indianapolis 500 this year is no longer about me.  This pink car will be out on track representing Komen, representing the survivors, and remembering those who sadly did not win their hard fought battles against breast cancer.  To have been a part of creating this opportunity for Susan G. Komen at the Indianapolis 500, and to now be a part of actually making this happen, is something I am incredibly proud of.”

Using the national platform of the world-famous race, she helped raise funding and awareness for the breast cancer organization.  We congratulate Pippa on her 24th place finish at the Indianapolis 500 and we applaud her for partnering with a nonprofit in this unique manner.  For more information about how you can help Pippa’s efforts for Susan G. Komen, visit

Heather Mitts:Professional Athlete and Mother

Q: How has being an athlete prepared you for motherhood? 

A: From the day we found out I was pregnant, I treated the nine month lead up to the birth as training for the big event. I continued working out, eating healthy, educating myself on what to expect and prepared myself mentally for the task ahead. Then I treated the first two weeks like pre-season and since then my ability to multitask while playing transfers over to being a mom. It’s pretty comical but once an athlete always an athlete. If you have the right attitude & prepare properly, you can accomplish anything.

Q: Would you want your child/children to become (a) professional athlete(s)? Why or Why not.

A: Only if they want to. My parents didn’t push me but we were always active growing up. My husband and I love to play sports & be outside so I am sure our son will reap the benefits. We will introduce him to all sports and support his time commitment. After that its up to him.

Q: Name something you have learned as a professional athlete that you will teach your child. 

A: Once you start something you fully dedicate your time and efforts for the entire season. After the season is over if he decides he isn’t interested then that’s okay. My parents never let me quit an activity. It’s was full dedication, effort & attitude while committed.

Q: What is the best thing about being a parent? 

A: Creating a life with the person you love that relies on you & whom you love & care about more than anything else in the world.

Women’s National History Month: Julie Foudy

In honor of Women’s History Month, Athletes for Hope would like to highlight an AFH member who’s been making history on the pitch and in her community: Julie Foudy. For the past seven years Julie has been a passionate AFH member and AFH Board Member as she brings her trademark commitment and intensity to growing Athletes for Hope as an organization.  During her illustrious soccer career, Julie was a key part of the US Women’s Soccer dynasty playing in four Women’s World Cups, and three Summer Olympic Games from 1991 to 2004. In 2007, Julie was inducted to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Julie has used her athletic platform to compile an equally impressive resume of activism and charitable involvement.  Ranging from activism for children’s rights to her extensive work for gender equality in sports, Julie has epitomized the mission of Athletes for Hope through her actions. Most recently, Julie again used sport to make the world a better place. Julie partnered with AFH member Ann Gaffigan in running the Los Angeles Marathon to raise funds for Magic Bus, an organization that uses sport to break the cycle of poverty in underserved communities across India. Click here to learn more about Magic Bus:

Highlighted Athlete Connections

Nick Hundley

Professional baseball player, Nick Hundley, spent his off-season building a relationship with Habitat for Humanity of Las Vegas. On January 2nd, Nick put down his baseball glove and picked up his paint brush and hammer to help at a Habit for Humanity build. In a few weeks, Nick heads to spring training, but during the next off-season, Nick looks forward to continue working with Habitat for Humanity in his home of Las Vegas.

Ashley Weinhold

Last month Ashley Weinhold of the Women’s Tennis Association took time out of her busy schedule to visit with the Boys and Girls Club in Austin, Texas. Ashley spoke to the club member about her story, her sport and talked answered questions from the kids. After their talk, Ashley led the group in a traditional tennis workout to get active on a beautiful Austin day. This was Ashley’s first visit with the club and she looks forward to growing the relationship in the coming months.

Kori Carter

In December Athletes for Hope presented its annual workshop to USA Track & Field, and the message resonated well with Olympic hopeful Kori Carter. Since the workshop Kori has become involved with two nonprofit organizations in the Palo Alto area: Girls to Women and The Riekes Center for Human Enhancement. For Girls to Women, Kori has joined the planning committee for the upcoming Girls to Women 5K run on March 22nd. And, with the Riekes Center Kori will be assisting with a high school track team that trains at the center, and she plans on mentoring young Paralympic athletes.