Students continue Johnson Day tradition

While some college athletes seek only to attain individual status and recognition, for many Colby students being part of a team has instilled the value of working towards a shared purpose. Whether fostering change on a global level or inspiring involvement within Waterville, numerous Colby teams are using their spare time to engage with the community and perform service projects.

For Lucy Dembeck ’19, seeking opportunities to get involved outside of Colby is integral to her role as president of the subcommittee on community engagement within Colby’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

“Reaching out to the community incorporates the teamwork you have within the team, while branching it out to helping other groups,” Dembeck said in an interview with the Echo. “That’s really big because it’s taking what being on a team teaches you and trying to go out into the world and apply it more.”

Chapters of SAAC are active at all NESCAC schools and involve athletes from every sport in order to give a voice to the student-athlete community. In addition to its members, three presidents run subcommittees focusing on the group’s three main goals: fostering physical  well-being and mental wellbeing, cultivating school spirit by encouraging athletes to support each other, and promoting civic engagement.

Two of the presidents recently attended a conference at Tufts University to learn about programs at other NESCAC schools.  The group has since been inspired to expand its influence and seek opportunities to grow in all three areas of interest. For Dembeck, this has meant collaborating with coaches and athletes to pursue projects in the community.

“The best way to find community events is to reach out to our coaches who have an idea of how we can help out,” Dembeck explained.  “We are hoping we can work off of those little things and get the whole SAAC team involved.”

The swim team embodied this goal by collaborating with other athletes to organize a “swimathon,” in the Colby pool in October to raise money for relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Emily Ambeliotis ’20, who planned the event with teammate Allie Douma ’20, said the swim was part of their team’s commitment to doing service projects regularly.

“Each year we try to do a community service project or two,” Ambeliotis explained.  “Since normally in the wintertime we go on a training trip to Puerto Rico, we thought it would be…important to help them out, especially because we are able to benefit from such an amazing and beautiful place annually.”

Over 40 students, mainly athletes from the swim and track teams, participated in the hour-long swimathon and fundraised by encouraging friends and family to donate money per lap or to contribute a fixed dollar amount. In total, the event raised over $4,000 for United for Puerto Rico, or Fondos Unidos for Puerto Rico, an organization established by the First Lady of Puerto Rico to provide aid to hurricane victims.

“Allie [Douma] and I were just talking and we were like something important needs to happen,” Ambeliotis said. “We wanted to do something that would engage the whole team.”

While the swimathon’s impact was outside of the United States, some sports teams focus their service efforts within the Colby community itself. During Johnson Day last weekend, students, including members of the tennis and crew teams, worked in groups to help the Physical Plant Department (PPD) with planting, raking and other grounds maintenance.

“It’s important to participate in events like this because it builds a respect for the campus we’re on and for the people who are working for us every day,” women’s crew team captain Katy Donchik ’18 said. “It also gives us an opportunity to bond as a team in a way that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do simply in practice.”

The crew team also gives back in the fall through their annual Hume Center Cleanup Day, when members of the team help maintain the facilities they use for rowing.

“The crew team has worked really hard to get involved with the community,” Donchik said. “The Hume family is generous enough to let Colby students use their space for recreation and for rowing…the cleanup day is just a simple way we’re able to give back to the family who is constantly helping us out.”

Similarly, the football team will help clean the campus before Alumni Weekend in the spring, while raising awareness for mental health through the annual Tony Marin Day, an initiative in memory of a former physical plant worker who took his own life.  Football players also volunteer at recess at the Hall School in Waterville, hold a push-up challenge to raise money for charity, and visit Alzheimer’s care facilities through the Cure the Cloud group.

“We have such a platform here,” football player Shane Normandeau ’19 said. “We are given the opportunity to make a difference on so many levels, since we already have a sound organization of 75 players plus eight coaches that can make a difference.”

Many teams chose to use their platform to inspire and connect with future generations of athletes. As a member of the women’s hockey team, Dembeck spends time on Sundays skating with local kids involved with Waterville youth hockey.

The Colby Woodsmen team, a unique group on campus that cultivates old-time logging skills, also connects with children and the community by performing at local fairs and events.  After the demonstration, children are given the opportunity to try out their own logging skills.

“We had some five or six year olds doing some sawing,” men’s captain Wes Zebrowski ’18 said.  “I think it’s a cool experience for them to do something that they normally wouldn’t get to do.”

The Woodsmen team also gives back to the community in a distinctive way by selling the wood they chop at a discounted price.

“There have been a number of homeowners that have been able to heat their homes affordably because of us, whereas they may not have been able to heat their homes before,” Zebrowski said.

In the future, SAAC hopes to increase the number of civic engagement projects occurring within athletics and will continue to promote the efforts of teams.

“You spend so much time with your sports team and you become really close,”   Ambeliotis explained.  “I think doing community service offers a place where you can think about your role as a person within the community and how being a student at Colby is more than saying you’re an athlete.”

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