Through Student Welfare and Development, Notre Dame student-athletes are no strangers to community outreach. From the Pediatric Christmas Party to the ROC UR Body Community Event earlier this year, the Irish have shown how much it means to them to get involved, especially when it comes to kids.
The Fighting Irish Fight for Life program takes that passion to another level. Rather than bringing in a large group of kids for one day, Student Welfare and Development pairs a team with a child who is a local oncology or hematology patient.
“The Fighting Irish Fight for Life program is a community engagement opportunity that gives our student-athletes the chance to develop a relationship with members of the community who are going through a difficult phase of their lives,” says Student Welfare and Development program director Duke Preston. “This program aims to give them a transformational experience – something that allows them to reflect, more than just act, for a cause. As part of this program, we look forward to welcoming participants onto campus and furthering our relationships with them.”
The program kicked off in the fall with a “Signing Day,” during which each child signed a “National Letter of Intent” to join their respective sports teams and became official members of the Fighting Irish. Since then, the athletes have spent the year getting to know their new friends.
Graduate student Tom Knight and the rest of the basketball team “signed” a young man named Trevonne. Knight visited Trevonne in the hospital with teammates Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton, but they also made sure to show him a good time and took him bowling with the team. Knight says Trevonne told him he had never been bowling before.
“He’s a little quiet,” Knight explains. “He seemed a little shy. But once he got to know some of the guys, he started talking with us more. It’s more personal than our other events. He’s one kid that we’re building a relationship with. We’re able to check up on him and see how he’s doing as opposed to interacting with him just one time.”
Volleyball player Toni Alugbue says that the young girl the volleyball team adopted, Daija, is one of the sweetest people she has ever met.
“She has such a good attitude and personality,” Alugbue says. “She is a regular girl that likes to paint her nails, listen to Taylor Swift and play soccer.”
Student Welfare and Development has planned another big event for the program this Wednesday, Feb. 26. All of the adopted kids and their “teams” will come to the men’s basketball game against Georgia Tech for a halftime presentation.
The event is about treating the kids like celebrities. They will get an experience that isn’t afforded to many, and Alugbue adds that the event is meant to “emphasize how we are all one big Fighting Irish family.”
Knight says the night holds extra significance for the basketball team and Trevonne, as they will get to play the game on behalf of all of their adopted teammates.
“These kids are going through such a rough time,” Knight says. “Sometimes it may feel like people don’t care about them, but to give them an opportunity like at the basketball game—there should be a good number of fans there—to make them feel special. To make them feel like they’re not all alone.”