April 14, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - A finalist for the 2013 Yeardley Reynolds Love Unsung Hero Award for the college lacrosse player who, amongst other attributes, excels in community service, Notre Dame's Molly Shawhan had nearly a full page worth's of community work on file when the time came to update the info to be nominated again in 2014.
Shawhan was handed a copy of her 2013 form and was asked to update it. The task was not as simple as just saying she also did the same activities in 2014 while also assuming a leadership role on the field as a team captain.
Shawhan wrote in the margin at the bottom of the page that she was now the community service liaison for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Then she added that she worked with the Fighting Irish Fight For Life program and the amazing work that the women's lacrosse team did with its adopted six-year old cancer patient, Bobby. Shawhan added that she helped form an all-student-athlete team for the Relay For Life event recently held on campus at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
Shawhan added that she was now volunteering at a homeless center in their childcare area, babysitting the children of the homeless. She listed that she had been working with Best Buddies, bringing joy and friendship to a local girl with cerebral palsy.
At this point Shawhan had exhausted the blank space at the bottom of the page, but she clearly hadn't exhausted her spare time activities. So, Shawhan turned the page sideways and continued writing in the gutter about how she was planning a Habitat for Humanity event for this fall where a house would be built right on campus and then moved to a family in need.
Shawhan added down the side of the page that she had helped organize an Adopt-A-Family for the team at Christmas time and had spent Thanksgiving working with Pangborn Hall on campus to bake pies for the homeless through Project Pumpkin Pie.
After reading back through all that she had just written, utilizing two of the page's four margins plus part of a third, and confirming all that had already been extensively listed from the previous year, Shawhan was satisfied and went to the weight room for a team workout.
Somewhere between that workout, her classes as a psychology and pre health major, the other time commitments of playing lacrosse and generating a community service resume that stretches to downtown South Bend and beyond, Shawhan surprisingly even finds time to sleep.
"A few hours when I can and naps here and there," she said.
While Shawhan may proverbially burn the candle at both ends, her focus is generally on those fellow humans who don't even have a candle to burn.
"There's not enough time in a day for Molly to help as many people and to be a part of as many things as she wants to be," head coach Christine Halfpenny said. "It brings joy to her. She gets such satisfaction from helping other people that it's not work for her. The sheer enjoyment she gets from what she can do is incredible. She's an amazing example.
"With her everyday mentality and how she approaches life, I feel like she has been put on this Earth to make a difference."
The selfless urge to make a difference is something that has been ingrained in Shawhan from birth. She has never known a world without her older brother Tommy in it. Tommy was born with cerebral palsy but is surrounded by love continuously in the Shawhan's Fulton, Maryland home. Halfpenny described Shawhan's parents Mary and Kirk as "amazing people. They're givers. They care about people." Their daughter is certainly upholding their legacy of compassion.
"One of my biggest motivators is my older brother Tommy," Shawhan said. "My mom always says that if life were fair then your brother would be able to walk and talk. Giving back to the people who need it more than I do is my biggest motivation. When I see someone in need I always just want to help them."
A 2013 Christopher Zorich Award recipient from the Irish's office of Student Welfare and Development, a rare feat for a junior, Shawhan doesn't limit her helping to just local people in need, or even Americans in need. The summer of 2012 saw Shawhan travelling over 7,200 miles to Uganda.
Through the Uganda Lacrosse Union's Fields of Growth program, Shawhan travelled to the African nation where she and other Americans not only taught the game, but built better lives. The delegation stayed in small villages where they built schools. A bit of the third world came back with Shawhan to the states and clings to her daily in South Bend.
"It's eye-opening when you see all of the incredible buildings we have on campus (at Notre Dame) when they go to class in little chateaus made of sticks and things," she said. "It was beautiful to see how much love of life they have despite how little they have. It put everything into perspective. I feel like I didn't do enough. They gave so much to me, I just hope that I gave a little."
It was through lacrosse that Shawhan became connected to Fields for Growth to have the opportunity to help the youth of Uganda. Lacrosse has also served as a vehicle to help many of her teammates. As one of the few seniors on a team dominated with freshmen and sophomores, Shawhan regularly lends her experiences navigating the challenges of being a Notre Dame student-athlete to her younger teammates.
Appearing in every game so far in 2014 with a trio of starts, Shawhan has played a critical role in the team's defensive unit, helping the Irish to a 9-5 record heading into Tuesday night's game at No. 13 Ohio State. If you ask her what she brings to the table as a senior leader though, she'll look beyond her stick work and good play to describe what role her captaincy presents.
"One of the biggest things I do is just making sure I have a personal relationship with every girl on the team and they can come to me for anything," Shawhan said.
For a soon-to-be Notre Dame alumnus who idyllically lives to selflessly give herself to others, the next stage of Shawhan's life won't involve an office job on Wall Street or an internship at some law firm. She will continue to make a difference for those in need.
Shawhan will spend two years of service for the Alliance for Catholic Education, a program serving underprivileged Catholic schools, mostly in the south. Next fall Shawhan will be in Corpus Christi, Texas teaching middle school math and science.
Naturally, she will continue to work on the Notre Dame SAAC's Habitat for Humanity project from the gulf coast. The Old Testament's concept of tithing may be a fine notion for some and excessive for many, but, for Shawhan, giving 10-percent of herself to help others is merely a good starting point.