Finding time to serve the community while juggling rigorous academic obligations and demanding varsity athletics schedules is no easy task.
But for the student-athletes in Lehigh's C.O.A.C.H. (Community Outreach for Athletes who Care about Helping) program, it is well worth the effort as they help a new generation of students understand the importance of leadership, respect, and discipline.
"I think that this is the best way that we can serve our community," says Carly Potock '11, a marketing major, softball player, and co-chair of the C.O.A.C.H. program. "We act as role models for the kids and teach them to set high goals and work hard to get there."
Founded in 1990, the C.O.A.C.H. program is a volunteer-based community effort for student-athletes at Lehigh.
"It started with visits to the Boys' Club, but it has grown into so much more than that," says Roseann Corsi, the program's organizer and public relations coordinator. "More students get involved when they see that it makes a big difference in the world."
And it certainly has grown. Last year, 248 student-athletes participated, volunteering 802 community service hours while talking to 6,430 children in the community.
The highlight each year is the Adopt-a-Family program, a three-month planning and fundraising effort in which Lehigh varsity teams sponsor an underprivileged family from the community. In 2009, Lehigh's student-athletes raised more than $30,000 to purchase holiday gifts for families and presented them at the Dec. 1 event in Taylor gym.
"We talk to friends, family members, alumni, and local businesses to ask for donations," says Potock, who was named to the Patriot League Softball Academic Honor Roll in 2009. "This has been a longstanding tradition with Lehigh Athletics and is something that we are very proud of."
Although the Adopt-a-Family program is by far the program's largest event, C.O.A.C.H. outreach extends even farther into the community on a regular basis. The program has partnered with St. Luke's Hospital to launch the Reading Rocks! Program, which sends about 50 student-athletes to Donegan Elementary School each week to help students develop reading skills one-on-one with the athletes. C.O.A.C.H. participants also speak at school assemblies and events year-round.
The student-athletes talk to kids about education, leadership, respect, inspiration, and passion. Each of these issues, for the C.O.A.C.H. participants, is a step toward attaining important goals both on and off the field.
"Looking back now, I am glad I did it because I have achieved the goals I set for myself," says Julie Kuhns '10, a systems management consulting major and field hockey player who serves as co-chair of the C.O.A.C.H. program. "But I feel it is important to help others understand and overcome the difficulties that come with balancing athletics, academics, and extracurricular activities because sometimes it is hard to see the big picture when your days are so structured and planned out by your professors and coaches."
The program's growing success, says Corsi, is really due to the dedication and leadership of the student volunteers.
"Once the students start to see the difference they are making, the lives they are touching, they want to help more and more," she says.
Kuhns, who was named to the Patriot League Field Hockey Academic Honor Roll with a 4.0 grade point average this year, says "the overall willingness by both student-athletes and staff to volunteer to serve both the local and global communities has really impressed me."
That dedication to serving the community has met with "an unbelievable response," Corsi says.
"We've touched a lot of lives out there," she says. "Our kids really make a difference in the community. It not only affects the kids we're touching, but it affects our students, too. They go on to be whatever they want to be, whether it's a doctor or a teacher or an engineer, and they go on to make community service part of their lives. To me that means a lot."