Last year Wayne State University’s Warriors football team made the NCAA Division 2 postseason playoffs, won four playoff games against higher ranked teams, earned a spot in the NCAA Championship game and finished #2 in the country.
That performance helped rank Wayne’s athletic program success in the top 10 percent of all Division 2 schools. Great stuff but it’s only a small part of what makes all of WSU’s student- athletes … not just the football team … special. They also are working to help transform Detroit.
Athletic Director Rob Fournier is a strong proponent for student-athletes giving back to the local community and has introduced a community service program. His leadership has created a “win-win” for Wayne State and a wide variety of worthwhile organizations that provide help for Detroit’s needy.
The athletes embrace this personal giving program with the same pride and competitiveness they exhibit in their sports and in their classrooms. Just for the record, 13 of the school’s 16 sports teams have cumulative grade point averages above 3.00 and their graduation rate is 26 percent higher than the general student population. By embracing the concept of giving to others less fortunate, the Wayne State student-athletes learn how to become involved in life and lives beyond sports and schoolwork. Call it “teamwork off the field.”
These athletes are learning the importance of caring about their neighbors and, more importantly, they are taking demonstrable actions to make life better for neighbors they have never met.
In the past seven years, WSU student-athletes have committed 35,000 community service hours to area soup kitchens, food drives, homeless shelters, health-related causes and to multiple youth organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, Toys-For-Tots, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Think Detroit PAL.
What’s most impressive is that the WSU student-athletes live on a campus in the heart of a city on the brink of financial collapse and they are helping city-wide efforts to overcome the entrenched negativism. According to the university, 350 of its athletes volunteer a total of 8,250 hours a year. U-M says 700 of its athletes volunteer a total of 3,000 hours and Ohio State says 700 of it athletes volunteer a total of 7,100 hours annually.
One student-athlete in particular has taken up the mantels of community organizer, entrepreneur, and Detroiter. Charlie Cavell, a senior in the School of Social Work and a member of the cross country team, started a “Pay It Forward Initiative,” which is a non-profit staffing agency that helps find jobs for foster care youth in transition.
The program targets unemployed 18-24 year olds, who are exiting transitional housing, have not had any exposure to higher education and have never held gainful employment. This 16-week program uses leveraged funding to provide internships as well as comprehensive classes covering topics ranging from financial literacy, business and communication to entrepreneurship and business norms. Interns work 20 hours a week at partner organizations helping fill employments gaps with the objective of being hired full time.
After visiting with Charlie I quickly recognized he would likely have pursued his chosen path of helping others whether or not he was active in the Athletic Department’s community services program. When we discussed the WSU program, he readily acknowledges it serves as a constant reminder to Wayne State student-athletes of the importance of life beyond sports and gaining an appreciation for the needs of others.
This program touches the lives of many, both recipients and volunteers, and is an important part of education for the student-athletes. To paraphrase Fournier … the initiative is positively impacting and developing the opinions of many young people … and not just student-athletes … who will eventually change the world.
That’s pretty heady stuff for a bunch of “jocks” and Detroit is a better place because of Wayne State’s commitment to helping its neighbors.