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The month of March is an exciting time for Canadian university sports. Varsity teams across Canada spend most of March battling it out in arduous tournaments to bring national recognition to their university.
Especially during this time of year, it is easy to get swept up in the action, focusing solely on medals won or opportunities squandered, and the human side of the athletic community can be quickly forgotten. While all student-athletes at McMaster grind it out over the school year to bring home another banner, many members of the McMaster athletic community also dedicate their time to another important cause.
McMaster Athletes Care is a volunteer program whose vision is to “utilize sport as a tool to teach valuable life skills and empower youth to believe in their dreams”. In addition to community events such as January’s annual Think Pink Week, the program gives Mac athletes an opportunity to volunteer in the Hamilton community.
From hospital visits and bringing kids to Marauders home games, MAC hosts weekly volunteer visits to the Living Rock Youth Resources program, the Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club of Hamilton, and the Routes Youth Centre. During these weekly visits, volunteers will utilize gym space to get kids active.
“It’s a really easy way to get volunteer hours to just sign up and go play sports, which is not really volunteering — it’s a lot of fun,” said MAC’s Living Rock coordinator Mike Cox. “It’s a productive procrastination where, if you watch two hours of Netflix, I feel like I don’t really get anything done and I feel kind of bad about that. But if you go and volunteer, you’re giving your time and it’s a nice break.”
Mike Cox has been involved with MAC for the last few years, initially volunteering as a member of the men’s lacrosse team to earn volunteer experience in pursuit of a teaching career. Cox eventually found himself making the weekly visits to Living Rock, a program for at-risk youth, and it became more than just a fun way to give back to the community.
“It’s a reality check too, to go out and to do all that stuff,” Cox said. “It just kind of makes your bed a little warmer and your food taste a little better and all that stuff, so I know that it puts things into perspective. I started out doing it because I needed volunteer hours but like once you get out there, it kind of sucks you in and obviously I’ve been there ever since.”
Upon returning to Mac for a master’s degree in mathematics last year, Cox took over as MAC’s Living Rock coordinator. Enthusiastically organized by McMaster’s Coordinator for Community and Alumni Engagement, Nicole Grosel, the executive committee is full of members like Cox, each committed to coordinating the various events of the program.
Living Rock focuses on an older age group compared to the other weekly visits, so while it can be a challenge to get the older kids to participate in physical activity, which is the program’s main focus, the quality time spent with the members of these programs is still important to them.
“It feels good to see these people who stop coming for good reasons, like they don’t have to be there because they found an apartment or because they’ve found a better job or they moved on,” Cox said. “It’s a cool feeling to kind of see them through all that stuff and see where they started and see where they ended up.”
In addition to giving kids an outlet and an additional support system, getting varsity athletes to interact with kids in the community serves MAC’s goal of inspiring and motivating kids. In addition to showing them the importance of living a physically active life, student-athletes can share opportunities that can come from playing high-level sports, like scholarships and important relationships.
“Volunteering is always important and all of those kids they appreciate it, and I know they do. It’s just good for McMaster and it’s good for your soul,” Cox said. “To show that the athletes do have, amongst their busy schedules, that we can give back a little bit and show that McMaster Athletics isn’t just about winning championships, it’s about showing that we can give back and that we can recognize that we’re very fortunate people.”
Not only does MAC help student-athletes appreciate their position, but it also allows some of the lesser-covered sports to gain some recognition as important parts of the Marauders community, such as the women’s lacrosse team who brought in a sizeable donation for a clothing drive and logged the most volunteer minutes for Think Pink Week.
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Congrats to the Woman's Lacrosse Team for logging the most volunteer hours during Think Pink! Vanessa tied for most hours as an individual during the week! "As a first-year athlete so many opportunities have come along and I've tried to embrace them as much as possible. So, when the chance to volunteer and help out with McMaster's Think Pink week arose, I was excited to take part. The whole week was filled with so many great activities and people who truly wanted to support the cause. My favourite part was connecting with other people from our community who also share the passion in raising funds for breast cancer research! Finding people who respect and cherish the work we were doing, all because I took a few hours out of my week to volunteer, was truly fulfilling. Volunteering never fails to remind me that such ordinary acts for one person can do extraordinary things for others. I am looking forward to take part in so many other opportunities that Mac Athletes Care offers and volunteer for the rest of my time here as a Mac athlete!" -Vanessa Bielecke, Lacrosse #MaraudersAtMac
Giving student-athletes from any sport a fun and easily accessible way to give back to the community, MAC continues to be a great service that deserves to be recognized as an invaluable resource for the Hamilton community. While giving student-athletes an opportunity to appreciate their own lives, MAC is helping to inspire a new generation of athletes.