Hear It From a Student - Tis the Season

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The concourse of the Joyce Center had been transformed for the night of Dec. 5. Table after table draped with red linen, Christmas music playing, and athletes from every Notre Dame sport running around with children from Memorial Hospital's Pediatric Unit.

Some of the college kids were dressed up for the occasion, but most represented their sport in full Notre Dame gear. The children who came for the party approached them cautiously at first, shy and wary of the tall, athletic people surrounding them.

That shyness didn't last long.

Student welfare and development program coordinator Sarah Smith says of all of the volunteer events planned for student-athletes, the Pediatric Christmas party is the one students get most excited about.

"This is the most popular community service event every year. It is obvious that this means a lot to the athletes or they wouldn't come in such abundance," Smith says. "And the children clearly have a wonderful time interacting with the students - all you have to do is see their smiling faces."

The smiling faces are hard to miss. As the children filter into the Joyce Center with their families, some of the athletes are set up at tables with cookies ready for decorating.

A little boy with his mom comes over to a table where women's lacrosse players are waiting. They all stand up when he arrives, eager to help.

"Do you want red frosting?"

"You should make a cookie sandwich!"

"Do you want some cookie with your icing?"

The little boy grins and takes a bite of his cookie, smearing the excessive icing all over his face, but he is not alone - some of the male athletes eat the cookies just as enthusiastically as their new little friends.

"How old are you?" a passing swimmer asks a little boy she is leading to a table.

"Four," he answers.

"Four!" she exclaims. "I thought you were 17, you're so big."

Whatever wariness they had vanishes, and the children are soon hanging on the athletes, laughing at every joke, smiles - as Smith says - everywhere.

Someone announces that a giant game of musical chairs has been set up in the Monogram room, and several kids tear across the concourse to go play (both children and college kids). There are hula-hoops laid out for everyone to play with, and a girl with curly hair challenges a few softball players to last for a minute. She out-hulas them all.

"This program gives the athletes a different perspective on life," Smith explains. "To be able to reflect back on the children and families they meet and realize their hardships are probably not in comparison to what these young kids deal with - next time a student starts to over-stress about an exam or workout maybe they can take a step back and be thankful for their health and life."

- Lauren Chval ('13)

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