While playing sports can feel like an all-consuming commitment, it is important for athletes of all levels to do more than just their sport and get involved with the community. For some members of the University of Utah softball team, this outreach is done through volunteering.
Ally Dickman, a junior on the team, is the vice president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and next year she will move up to the presidential position. This club aims to build relationships between the university and the community.
“One of the biggest things this group does is community outreach projects,” Dickman said. “We do a big project in the fall and in the spring, and then we partner with elementary schools to create a good relationship with the kids. We volunteer once a month with the schools.”
One of the projects was called Bags to Beds. In this project, members of the group collected plastic bags, then crocheted them into mats for the homeless to sleep on. In the spring, SAAC set up a bowling night with the Utes. They invited 30 eighth graders and their teachers from Wallace Stegner Academy to an evening on campus where they could mingle and play games with student-athletes.
Overall, Dickman said the experience has been amazing. Her sister, Kate Dickman, who was also a Utah softball player, inspired her to get involved with SAAC. Volunteering in the community has made Dickman feel more connected as an athlete.
Freshman Alyssa Palacios has also been volunteering in her spare time by participating in projects offered through her sociology classes. This experience early in her college years is important to her because she wants to pursue a degree in social work. Palacios hopes to work with children and teens who are experiencing diffuculties in life.
One class required Palacios to help someone in the community in need. Palacios, along with two of her teammates, Dickman and Aubrey Peterson, went to a homeless shelter in downtown Salt Lake City.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I was going,” Palacios said. “I thought we were just going to be handing out dinner, but we listened to about 45 minutes of their church service and after that we passed out dinner.”
The whole experience was unique and humbling for Palacios. She was touched by how thankful everyone was for the time she was putting in to serve them. Palacios mentioned that one of the highlights from working at the homeless shelter was when she met a young man who happened to be wearing the same Utah sweatshirt that she and the other girls were wearing. He was overjoyed to share this commonality with the Utah athletes.
“Because of this experience, I am definitely thankful for what I have, whether it is this sweatshirt or something else,” Palacios said. “This sweatshirt might not mean a lot to me, but it meant a lot to that kid that had it. I can be thankful for even the littlest things.”
Not all students or athletes take the opportunity to give back to the community and experience life from a different perspective. This is why SAAC is a great program for student-athletes to get involved in. Utah Athletics, as well as the NCAA, requires each team has at least two representatives in the club. The time commitments are fairly low, but many athletes put in more time purely for the joy of serving the community.
Dickman shared one of the hardest parts of the club is getting people to participate as much as she does. Everyone is busy, and it can be hard to work around a student-athlete’s schedule, but she said the experiences make it worthwhile.
“I just like being involved in more than my sport, and I also enjoy meeting new staff and people from all different backgrounds,” Dickman said.