Opening the door to a group of young athletes isn't an uncommon site in most communities, particularly as the cost of playing sports often requires teams to fundraise each season. Anyone who opened their door for the Harbor Springs U13 girls travel soccer team this spring, however, discovered an interesting twist to the usual donation requests: the girls were raising money, but not for themselves. They were raising funds for the Women's Resource Center Safe Home.
The team made a commitment this year to service, in part because of the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December, 2012.
"It deeply affected a lot of our players. It also deeply affected us," said coach Cindy Hunt. "We wanted to do something to give back to our own community, and to help our players develop as people, not just athletes."
What began as a small idea quickly morphed into a major life lesson. Hunt organized an opportunity for her players to hear from a professional fundraiser, Zareena Koch, from Boyne City, who trained the girls on how to fundraise effectively. She also set up a mock "donation ask" panel made up of community leaders so the girls could practice being professional-- and receive feedback on their presentations-- before going out into the community.
The original goal was to raise $1,000. They quickly surpassed it (in the first hour they collected more than $1,200). By the time the team presented funds to the Women's Resource Center, they had raised nearly $3,000, and collected a large amount of non-perishable items to donate to the Safehouse.
"It was an incredible experience," said one of the team's assistant coaches, Anne Fleming. "One group of girls actually was given a donation by a woman who had used the Safehouse at one point in her life. They were able to really connect with what they were doing."
Jan Mancinelli, executive director of the Women's Resource Center, said she was floored by both the generosity of the team and the social consciousness of the coaches.
"What an impressive group of young women. Not only did they do an incredible job of raising a significant amount of money, but when they came as a team to deliver it I had the pleasure of meeting each of them, and to learn how and why they did it. Their coaches are incorporating character building activities that are life lessons beyond-what is taught-to win on a playing field," she said.
The team-- made up of 16 sixth and seventh grade (now seventh and eighth grade) girls-- did more than ask for others to give, however, Hunt stressed.
"Every girl was asked to be the first on the donors list. If they are asking others to give, they need to give of themselves first," she said. "These girls believe in doing the right thing and are so excited by the support of the community in helping to prove to themselves that they really do live in a kind place."
For the athletes, giving back means gaining personal growth.
"It's good to help people and not think about yourself all the time," said team member Alison Fought. "We like to help people, and it felt good to do something we knew would help those in need. I learned that there are a lot of good people out there, willing to help when asked."
Fought's mother, Lisa, was one of the parents who helped with this project. She said the valuable lessons in leadership and teamwork the team developed are skills that will extend "beyond the soccer field." "We couldn't ask for better examples than Cindy and Anne," she said of her daughter's coaches. "It is due to magnanimous individuals like them that make this community the place we all want to be. I am personally honored and humbled to call them my friends and thankful for the lifelong influence they have given to this team and their families."
For Hunt, having a strong team also means having a unique opportunity to do more than just coach a game.
"One thing that I am aware of is the special relationship a coach has with their team. Our team has been lucky to have three of us (Anne Flemming, Dennis Wagner and myself) that serve them and play different roles for the girls," she said. "It creates a family on the field. Just like a family, there are rules and expectations, but also, a belief that they will push themselves to be the best that they can be. It also is about creating a community. This is where these projects develop from that belief that we all need to give back to our community that has been serving us."
In the past, the team has worked with Manna Food Project and spent time volunteering at Bay Bluffs Medical Care Facility. Serving the community is unique idea for coaches to create a team, and character-building, atmosphere. Hunt added many projects cost nothing, and are relatively simple to complete.
"The best way to start is by looking for a small project that requires only a couple of hours and no money. The giving of time is always the best," she said.
Knowing there are teams like the Harbor Springs U-13 Girls Travel Soccer players out there is something to celebrate, Mancinelli said.
"This is an incredible effort on behalf of these young people. To see this type of mindset, attitude and effort is awesome, it makes you think to yourself, 'if this is what our young people are doing, there really is hope for our future.'"