Article and photo by Wendy Moore, assistant women’s soccer coach at Trinity International University (Ill.)
Editor’s note: What’s different about this community service project? NAIA student-athletes are directly teaching the five core values of the NAIA Champions of Character program. That is one of the goals of the Champions of Character program, and it’s the way NAIA member institutions can set themselves apart from the many good deeds most institutions undertake with their athletics departments.
Trinity International University (Ill.) men’s and women’s soccer teams spent their final team activity of the year serving the local community and sharing their love of the game with youth from North Chicago. More importantly, they took the time to teach lessons for a lifetime—the NAIA Champions of Character core values.
“Today was about teaching the kids about the NAIA Champions of Character core values, what those values look in everyday life, and letting them know they are loved,” said Trinity freshman, Nikki Post. “I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to end our year than serving the Lord through simply loving on these kids.”
The North Chicago community is just 13 miles from Trinity’s campus, but their worlds could not be more different. Trinity is located in affluent Bannockburn Ill., surrounded by major business corporations, strong school districts and wealthy neighborhoods. Take a 20-minute drive north and you will find a community that at one point was called a “food desert,” as there are no grocery stores in their city, just fast food chains and no source of fresh fruits or vegetables. Many of the youth from North Chicago have rough backgrounds, including challenging home lives, and they also have very little in terms of resources and opportunities.
“When I was approached about having the students from North Chicago on campus, the thought was to simply have a couple of hours of interaction between the kids and our teams and players,” said Patrick Gilliam, head men’s and women’s soccer coach at Trinity International. “But as the event drew closer, I began to feel challenged and convicted that we should not simply give them two hours of fun, but in addition to that incorporate real life lessons and applications that they could take with them long after the afternoon ended. As I thought about what that would look like, the NAIA’s Champions of Character core values were a natural and perfect fit.”
Trinity International soccer student-athletes organized every aspect of the day, from games and activity stations to how they would greet the kids the minute they stepped off the bus. All five NAIA core values of Integrity, Respect, Responsibility, Sportsmanship and Servant Leadership were integrated into the different activities throughout the day. Each station featured one male and one female Trinity International soccer student-athlete to speak on the selected core value and interact with the kids on what that core value could look like in their life. The core values also were strategically encouraged in the activity and then reflected upon during a debriefing after each game.
The rest of the Trinity International student-athletes who were not speakers or game facilitators were divided into teams and specifically selected a fewchildren they would intentionally invest in throughout the day. After two hours of fun, fellowship and learning, the day came to a close with a pizza party for the children and the volunteers.
“I am extremely proud of both our small group leaders and our student-athletes for both their planning in the weeks leading up to the event and their investment in the students,” Gilliam said. “As is often the case, I think we were the ones who were more blessed by what took place.”
That was certainly true for Trinity International junior Greg Navitsky.
“I hung with a kid named Marson all day,” Navitsky said. “We had so much fun! His joy and love for the atmosphere was electric. At each station we did a handshake that we came up with and he also asked me to give him piggyback rides to all the stations. It reminded me SO much of how the love of Jesus Christ loves to be present with us and how he never grows tired, weak or weary.”
Navitsky added, “Marson scored a goal in the scrimmage and he came running and screaming to me to celebrate his tremendous accomplishment with him. It was moving to pick him up and twirl him around as if he was the only one in the world that mattered.”