Service in the City

January 29, 2015
Community outreach can seem elusive for a school in a metropolitan area. One athletic director explains how to navigate the obstacles.
By China Jude

China Jude is Assistant Vice President/Athletics Director at Queens College and serves as Vice Chair of the NCAA's Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee. She has also worked in community and social services and received an honorable discharge from the United States Navy. She can be reached at: China.Jude@qc.cuny.edu.

Here at Queens College, City University of New York, our motto is Discimus ut Serviamus, which means, "We learn so that we may serve." And we take these words seriously.

Despite the many distractions in New York City, our student-athletes channel their energy by giving back. They embrace the city as "their community" and volunteer in capacities ranging from washing puppies at a local animal shelter to helping people who are HIV-positive. Our athletic department averages 30 community service projects each year and is committed to annually raising at least $13,000 for Relay for Life.

How do we do this with the millennial generation, who are sometimes called self-centered and entitled? It starts with making community outreach an athletic department priority and continues with providing meaningful opportunities.

At the Top
When a college is located in a large city, there can be a notion that community relations work is not worth the effort. Can a handful of activities impact a city of more than eight million people, like New York? And is there even a community in a city?

We answer "yes" to both those questions and believe outreach work is worth every second spent on it. We understand that our student-athletes, when deciding among the almost 300 NCAA Division II institutions to attend, choose Queens College because they want to be in a city--and they want to be connected to that city. Community outreach is a great way to meet the latter goal.

As Athletics Director of the department, I preach the values of service and demonstrate them by participating in various community programs myself, from Girl Scouts to Samaritan's Feet. I also work hard to bring coaches on board who embrace the concept and are eager to teach it to their players. As a part of the hiring process, our department has criteria that include community service projects. In addition, outreach-related questions are asked to candidates during interviews.

We back that up with athletic department policies on community service. All of our sports teams are responsible for participating in two outreach projects each year, and many of our squads choose to surpass that amount. This expectation is part of each coach's job evaluation, which establishes consistency of programming and strengthens the department's mission.

I enjoy joining the student-athletes during some of the projects. I recently participated in Queens College's Relay for Life, a fundraiser for cancer research that our teams were involved in. It was fun to financially support the various student booths, and I was honored to join the students who walked around the candles in the gymnasium to honor cancer survivors. It was a very emotional experience for everyone.

In addition, our school commits to service learning in a big way. Queens College provides extensive national and international outreach opportunities, which we embrace in the athletic department. Each year, at least two student-athletes travel abroad as a part of this experience. When they return, they share their experiences at student-athlete meetings.

Making it Meaningful
Team community service projects are chosen by student-athletes with assistance from their coach. Sometimes, the inspiration comes from a player's parent or grandparent being stricken by a disease. Other times, the ideas derive from a passion a coach or student-athlete has. There is no formal process to select a cause or organization, but teams are encouraged to thoroughly engage in discussion about their choice.

We also encourage teams to take advantage of the amazing array of unique opportunities all around us in New York City. One that our squads volunteer for every year is the Midnight Run, in which our student-athletes distribute food, clothing, blankets, and personal care items to the homeless and poor during the evening hours. The Midnight Run organization wants volunteers to create a forum for trust, sharing, understanding, and affection. Our student-athletes return to campus with a fuller understanding of those who are less fortunate and a better appreciation of their own circumstances.

Many of our teams invest in working with populations that have extensive needs. For example, our softball team recently held a playdate with a special-needs school in the Bronx, the men's basketball squad conducts basketball clinics for homeless children, the women's basketball players cook meals for families at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island, and the women's soccer team collaborates with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to coordinate activities for National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

Another very special community service project involved our men's basketball team, which participated in a program to provide meals for the elderly. Along with learning cooking skills, the student-athletes said that it felt really good to help those who were unable to help themselves.

Balancing collegiate academics and athletics is challenging in and of itself, and adding in community engagement can seem like too much for some student-athletes. But participation in such endeavors provides young people with an opportunity to find their passion, as well as strengthen their resume for employment, graduate school, or an internship. As we listen to our student-athletes relay their experiences in outreach, it becomes clear that many of them will continue to serve the community as tomorrow's teachers, mentors, and maybe even coaches.
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