Doane tops NAIA for student-athlete volunteer hours; wins honor

Staff Writer
Syracuse Journal-Democrat

Doane’s student-athletes are a dedicated bunch. On the field, court, track, and in the classroom, Tigers work harder than most. Now we have more proof.

Doane ranked No. 1 among National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools in this year’s “Helper Helper Challenge.” That means Doane student-athletes recorded more volunteer hours than any of the nearly 200 other participating NAIA schools since July 2019. Volunteer hours were recorded through the Helper Helper app, a service that logs community service hours for organizations.

“We had 770 volunteers log 5,450 volunteer hours (since July 2019),” says Andrew Brown, assistant director of the Hansen Leadership Program and Helper Helper coordinator for Doane. “Of those students who volunteered, 540 were student-athletes.”

The Helper Helper app is a private service that is partnered with Doane through the NAIA to help students (not just athletic teams, but greek and student organizations as well) find volunteer opportunities in their community and log all of their hours worked. According to Brown, any student at Doane can sign up and create an account. Every athletic team, greek group and student organization already has an account. Students can access Helper Helper via a web platformhttps://www.helperhelper.comor through a mobile app. Doane has been partnering with Helper Helper for about two years, according to Brown.

It should come as no surprise that Doane student-athletes excel as volunteers. Service and giving back to the community is a core tenet of Doane’s athletic program as a whole.

“We let our coaches know that it is expected that each athletic program takes part in some kind of community service,” says Doane Athletic Director Matt Franzen. “It’s always been something we’ve promoted in our programs. We’ve always tracked it internally, but the Helper Helper app helps make it easier and more centralized.”

Franzen says most of Doane’s athletic teams take the lead when it comes to organizing volunteer efforts. Several teams have regular, planned volunteer actions, and meeting those expectations has made its way into the culture of the teams.

“It’s become enough a part of the culture that some of the team leaders move on opportunities without any coaxing from us,” Franzen says.

Doane student-athlete volunteer work over the past year has included:

  • Weekly community dinners
  • Monthly food pantry
  • Working with elementary students in Crete and abroad
  • Partnering with the Special Olympics
  • Youth athletic camps
  • Community clean-ups
  • Elementary school supply drives
  • COVID-19 supply drives
  • Making masks for Crete health workers
  • Numerous individual projects

Doane track & field athlete Luke Urbonavicius ‘22 is a site leader for Doane promoting alternative break programs. The programs offer travel opportunities during spring and fall breaks, where students travel to various sites to do a week’s worth of full-time volunteer work for the duration of the breaks.

“We’ll do an 8-hour work day every day for whatever nonprofit we choose for that trip,” Urbonavicius says. “I’ve been on three trips so far doing that.”

Ubbonavicius says that Doane’s storied Relay For Life involvement also counts toward a lot of his student-athlete volunteer hours. He works on the executive team finding business sponsors for Doane’s yearly event.>

Basketball player Will Grixby ‘23 says his favorite volunteer work was during a trip the Doane men’s basketball team took to the U.S. Virgin Islands. There the team worked in an elementary school, reading books to the kids, sharing meals with them, and cleaning up the school grounds.

“We were having recess, the players were playing with the kids, we had tons of them,” Grixby says. “The coaches would put them (the kids) together and send them at one of the players. The kids would rush us (the players) and wrestle us to the ground, take our phones and watches, but it was fun. It was cute.”

The future of Doane’s volunteer efforts are in flux along with everything else as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many regular volunteer events simply cannot be held due to restrictions imposed by the need for social distancing, and sanitary distribution becomes problematic also. All parties interviewed for this story acknowledged the need to change and adapt their volunteer efforts to the demands of the pandemic, but all parties also acknowledged a greater need, and a greater motivation to reach out and help the Doane community during this struggle.

“That’s a conversation we’re having,” Brown says. “Where the need is, what support they’ll need; some of those projects may be working virtually, creating facemasks, etc.

“We won’t be going into the nursing home to help every Tuesday anymore, but we have to find out what helping looks like right now.”

Brown says continuing to partner with the Helper Helper app shows promise in maintaining student interest and motivation in volunteering. It certainly makes it easier to find volunteer work, and log the hours.

“Last year (2018-19) we had around 400 volunteers,” he says. “By implementing this software, we’ve seen our numbers increase. We’ll be doing this every year.”