Finding Your Passion and Giving Back

24 Hawkeyes to Watch 2016-17 | Hawkeye Fan Shop — A Black & Gold Store – | Hawk Talk Monthly — Dec. 2016 –

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Many teams understand the importance of volunteering, but few teams emphasize it like the University of Iowa softball program.
Shortly after UI head coach Marla Looper arrived on campus in 2010, she implemented a standard for the Hawkeyes.  Each player will perform a minimum of 16 volunteer hours during the fall and 10 hours during the spring semester.
The Hawkeyes would obtain their hours differently than most teams by having the student-athletes branch out to find an organization they can volunteer with on their own.
“Everyone is passionate about something different,” said Looper. “Some love working with kids, some love working with the elderly, and some like working with animals. We started talking about spreading things out and letting the players choose who they want to help. That way, they can work in an area they are passionate about.”
During the first year, the team volunteered with organizations like Iowa City’s VA Medical Center, the Hope Lodge and the University of Iowa REACH Program. The student-athletes are still involved with those organizations this year as they strive to go above and beyond to give back to the community.
The team’s volunteering efforts do not stop with these groups. Once a year, the Hawkeyes host an awareness game for the organizations they have been working with. The groups have the opportunity to throw out a first pitch, and the student-athletes put together videos of what they are doing and how fans can help.
The Hawkeyes have embraced this method of volunteering. They have taken ownership of it.
“At first I didn’t know where I wanted to volunteer,” said freshman Alex Rath. “My step-dad works at the VA Medical Center and sometimes I would go get lunch with him, so he got me into it. I already worked as a dietary aid at a nursing home so I was used to the medical field and I wanted to be involved in that sense. This was the perfect fit for me.”
The UI REACH Program is one project the Hawkeyes have embraced since the year one. Each year, the Hawkeyes hold a kickball game with members of the program. The REACH Program is a two-year certificate program that provides a Big Ten campus experience for people with disabilities.
Junior Sarah Kurtz spends an average of two hours a week volunteering with both the REACH program and Fuel Up to Play 60. Although the hours seem daunting at the beginning of the semester, Kurtz believes the method of choosing which program to work with helps people become more invested.
“It gives us the opportunity to build better relationships instead of being required to go do something as an entire team,” said Kurtz. “This is on your own and you are given the freedom to find the program and develop relationships. That helps foster a better outlook on volunteering and helps us give back more.”
The emphasis on finding something to be passionate about and using that to give back sets the Hawkeyes apart.  It gives the players a different sense of pride in both the community and program. 
“I like the importance coach Looper puts on not just the actual volunteering, but on showing true gratitude for having the opportunity to play and represent the University of Iowa every day,” said Kurtz. “I think the importance that our staff puts on the community, family, and the opportunities these things provide us is unlike any other program.”