Aug. 11, 2017
By Megan Golden
Women’s soccer student-athlete Shannon Hendricks was greeted with a warm welcome from her new friend, Ayman, just minutes upon arriving at a quaint Bethlehem workshop, which employed adults with special needs. Hendricks had been accepted into Notre Dame’s International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP), which ultimately assigned her to Jerusalem for nine weeks of coursework and service to the poor this past summer.
A Notre Dame junior, Hendricks lived in Jerusalem with fellow Notre Dame students and worked in Bethlehem at the workshop with numerous employees, also known as “core members.” Hendricks spent the first two weeks taking classes and traveling to places such as Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Mount of Beatitudes and the Sea of Galilee. For the final seven weeks, she participated in service projects.
At the workshop, Hendricks assisted Ayman and his fellow core members -- aged 17 to 46 -- with their day-to-day tasks, including making wool, wallets, hair pieces, necklaces and nativity scenes.
“Their big seller is the nativity scene,” Hendricks said. “They get the wool from Bethlehem, and they do the entire process themselves, which is really cool. They get the wool, they process the wool, they dye it and work it all the way through. They package it themselves, and they sell it.”
Hendricks relied heavily on her instant sidekick, Ayman, who spoke basic English. Ayman, in addition to looking out for Hendricks each day, taught the Granger native some Arabic.
“From walking in on the first day, he greeted me with a ‘Welcome! How are you? It’s so great to have you here. How long are you going to be here?’” Hendricks said. “That was awesome to walk in and have that welcome.
“Every day after that, he looked out for me in the workshop. During meal time or break time, he would always make sure I was in the right place at the right time. It was really cool to have him take on the responsibility of making sure I was okay. He was awesome.”
Ayman taught Hendricks a few essential Arabic phrases, which, translated to English mean, “Thank you,” and “Let’s go.”
Hendricks, a business major with a Catholic Social Tradition minor, said that despite the language barrier, she managed to connect with each core member. Hendricks practiced her Arabic with her new friends, who laughed unceasingly at her poor pronunciation.
That was until the core members taught Hendricks how to say, “enough,” allowing her to at least try to put an end to their laughter.
“[We communicated through] lots of work, lots of smiles, lots of high fives,” Hendricks said. “It was a constant game throughout the summer: ‘Let’s teach Shannon Arabic.’ They would laugh at my pronunciation because so many of the words and sounds in Arabic we don’t have to make in English. It just sounds funny coming out of my mouth.”
Hendricks clearly has passion for serving those with special needs. Growing up in Granger with her older brother, Brian, Hendricks developed an admiration for Brian’s determination and joyfulness. Currently 25 years old, Brian works two days per week at Darden Elementary and two days per week at Hannah and Friends.
“[He has taught me] so much,” Hendricks said. “Something that I really admire about Brian is how much joy he finds in such little things. He’s such a hard worker. He’s my older brother, so he’s watched me grow up. Watching him grow up and learn how to do the things he can do has been awesome.”
Reflecting on her experience as Brian’s younger sister, Hendricks shared an anecdote detailing one particular simple moment in which Brian’s joy was evident.
“I took him out one night, and my parents gave us money for the meal, but we didn’t have enough money to get Sprite. Sprite is one of his favorite things,” she said. “I said, ‘Brian go fill this cup up with water.’ He comes back to the table and his water cup is bubbling. ‘Brian, why does your water cup have bubbles in it?’ He just laughed and said, ‘Oops.’”
Soccer Brings People Together
Hendricks’ passion and love for others became evident immediately throughout the course of her stay in Jerusalem.
One particular week, Hendricks traveled to the Sea of Galilee with several of those with whom she worked in Bethlehem. Hendricks swam and painted with the kids, leading to smiles and high fives galore.
A few German volunteers recognized Hendricks’ passion and joy through her service, and they asked her if she could fly to Germany to volunteer at a summer camp. A few phone calls later, Hendricks had adjusted her flight back to the United States to allow for a one-week stay in Schloss Dankern, Germany.
The German campers found a special appreciation for Hendricks’ soccer skills.
“They all thought it was very cool that I could play soccer. A lot of core members and I went to play soccer a couple nights,” she said. “There was another assistant, who plays professionally, who was there too. The two of us ran a session for them one night and would play small games with them. It was a good way to connect with people through soccer.”
Hendricks’ favorite ball trick to use against the kids? They found it entertaining when she nutmegged them -- dribbled the ball between their legs.
“They’d always think it was really funny when you’d nutmeg them,” she said. “I would nutmeg one of them and the others would be like, ‘Oh, you just got nutmegged by a girl!’ In German, of course.”
The Irish midfielder collected many new memories throughout her time abroad. Hendricks was naturally equipped to impart her love of soccer to others, but perhaps her greatest impact was the way in which she imparted her joyfulness and love for others.
“The opportunities at Notre Dame are amazing,” she said. “There’s so many different things you can do. So many different places you can go and people you can meet. The opportunities are endless.”
Megan Golden, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since August of 2016. In her role, she coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women's soccer and cross country/track and field programs. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Golden is a 2014 graduate of Saint Mary's College and former Irish women’s basketball manager. Prior to arriving at Notre Dame, she worked in public relations with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.