June 11, 2013
February is not the most pleasant month of the year in South Bend; the days are short, the weather is cold, and homework for Notre Dame students is not lacking, to say the least. After a day of classes, homework, and meetings, few things sound more appealing to a student than a hot dinner from the dining hall and a warm bed to sleep in. These responsibilities become magnified when being an athlete is thrown into the mix. Student-athletes are accountable for all the aforementioned responsibilities and then some. They have practices, meetings, team meals and a certain GPA to maintain. Despite their seemingly overwhelming schedules, student athletes at the University of Notre Dame still found time to give back to the South Bend community.
Notre Dame athletes brought a little bit of light to those dark winter months by volunteering their time and effort with fourth grade students at Perley Primary Center. As part of a project put together by the Notre Dame Student-Athlete Advisory Council in conjunction with Perley Primary Center, Notre Dame student-athletes took time out of their day to go to Perley Primary Center and work with the fourth graders during the children's lunch period. The project was to be, in essence, a mural on the façade of the school which depicted what the Perley fourth graders thought were important aspects of education. The overarching theme of the project was to develop and foster creativity in the students. The athletes' roles, though vital, were mainly to prod ideas from the kids. During those lunch periods, brainstorming took place and Notre Dame student-athletes let the children of Perley Center take the reins of the project. Themes that stood out to students in regards to what they thought to be important in education were Respect, Activity, Tolerance, and Individuality.
After weekly lunch meetings with the fourth graders of Perley Primary Center, the Notre Dame athletes began to meet with students and faculty members on Sundays for two hours per weekend. Richard Threet, the Art Director at Perley, was a major help and influence on the mural project. He led the Sunday sessions which including a great deal of priming and sketching before the murals could be painted. Athletes and students again worked hand-in-hand during the project--with both groups learning and building relationships with one another. Sarah Smith, the program coordinator in the office of Student Welfare and Development, noted that the interaction between the Notre Dame student-athletes and the fourth graders from Perley was fantastic; athletes immersed themselves in the project from the onset and were able to grow close with the children throughout the three-month process.
The student-athletes from Notre Dame served as excellent mentors to the young students of Perley Primary Center. At nine and ten years old, children are very impressionable and can easily be molded by those they surround themselves with. As student-athletes at a prestigious university, the participants from Notre Dame were able to show the receptive fourth graders the importance of balancing a full schedule with an active social life. The importance of education is paramount, as can be seen in the mission of the mural project. The student-athletes were able to show that although they were athletes, their academics and the values of their school were not diminished by the commitment to their sport.
The Mural was officially unveiled on May 15th, where students, parents, and athletes were invited to attend. The unveiling was done in conjunction with a school play in order to make the evening one of special significance. The mural now can be seen by all those walking, jogging, or driving by Perley as it is located on the side of the building facing Eddy Street. Hopeful messages painted against bright and vibrant colors make Perley Primary Center's commitment to well-rounded education apparent to the South Bend community.
"The teachers and students at Perley were incredible to partner with," said Andrew Carreon, men's golf team member and SAAC President. "The mural stands as a lasting legacy of the strong friendships Notre Dame students and staff have formed with many young students in South Bend and the teachers who make such a positive impact in their lives every day."
"Interacting with the Perley students was an amazing experience and I feel lucky to have met so many great kids," said Elena Brindley, rowing team member and incoming SAAC representative. "Watching all of their creative ideas come together and seeing the whole process, from sketches all the way to the final mural was really rewarding."
"It was so much fun working with the kids and seeing how excited they were to be part of the project," said 2013 Notre Dame graduate, women's tennis standout and SAAC officer, Chrissie McGaffigan.
In all, over 60 Notre Dame student-athletes took part in the process. Cross Country, Track and Field, Rowing, Women's Tennis, and Women's Lacrosse were all prominent Notre Dame teams who took part in the process. The Notre Dame Office for Student Welfare and Development has helped Notre Dame student-athletes become involved in numerous activities in the greater South Bend community, including Irish Experience Camps, JDRF Walks, Michiana Walk for Down Syndrome, mentoring programs and tutoring at many local primary and intermediate schools. For more information on how Notre Dame student-athletes are impacting the community off the field, visit http://swd.nd.edu/.