Penn State student-athletes contribute 8,000 hours of community service

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Playing an impactful role in the community is a responsibility Penn State’s student-athletes, coaches and staff do not take lightly.

The Nittany Lions’ 31 teams take incredible pride in efforts that make a difference in avenues outside of the competition field. As representatives of Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics, the student-athletes understand the importance of influencing those in many different facets of life. And the groups are able to use their placement in the community as a conduit to helping others.

Through a wide-range of activities with organizations and groups of all sizes and ages, Penn State’s approximately 800 student-athletes significantly increased their community engagement in 2015-16 compared to the previous year. During the past year, the Nittany Lions logged a combined 8,016 hours of community engagement, an increase of 33.4 percent from the 5,338 total in 2014-15.

“I am so proud of the service and servant’s hearts that our student-athletes and programs have,” said Sandy Barbour, director of athletics. “There are so many important ways in which our student-athletes and coaches engage with the community and serve as mentors. It’s such a great environment and lesson for our student-athletes. When we give, we’re the ones who receive, and I think our student-athletes are learning those lessons through their great work in the community.”

The significant jump in community engagement was fueled by a total of 15 Penn State teams having at least 100 hours of service this past year, an increase from 11 the previous year (men’s and women’s track and field/cross country count as two teams).

Directed by Keith Embray, assistant athletic director for student-athlete welfare and development, the extensive community engagement created an average of 10.02 hours of service per Nittany Lion student-athlete, well above the average of 6.87 hours in 2014-15.

The activity in the community from Penn State student-athletes and its Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) is directly aligned with the University’s service culture. Among the organizations and events the Nittany Lions support are: Special Olympics Pennsylvania, Women’s Resource Center, Pennsylvania Pink Zone, Coaches vs. Cancer, Uplifting Athletes’ Lift for Life, Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Giving Tuesday, Friends of Jaclyn, baby shower baskets with University of Maryland student-athletes, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, Toys for Tots, Relay for Life and the American Red Cross, as well as THON (see more below).

The women’s gymnastics program has won Penn State’s community outreach CHAMPS Cup Award for six consecutive years for teams with 20 or fewer squad members. The football team’s offensive unit captured the CHAMPS Cup for squads with 20 or more members in 2015-16 after the squad’s defensive unit was recognized the year before.

“We have a rich tradition of participating in community service around State College and on campus, said Jeff Thompson, women’s gymnastics head coach. “Being able to embrace and give back to a community that heavily supports our University is so important to us as a program and as individuals. Giving back and supporting those less fortunate really puts things into perspective and helps our team members to grow and develop during their Penn State experience. Our team continually strives to make a difference in the lives of our community members by volunteering their time.”

Each February, Penn State Athletics plays an integral part in THON, the largest student run philanthropy in the world. Since 1977, THON has raised more than $137 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Several student-athletes annually participate in the dance marathon and more than 100 are involved with the Student-Athlete Hour and pep rally, in addition to teams hosting THON outreach events, such as the Penn State Football THON Explorers program where more than 50 THON children and their families tour the Lasch Football Building.

Community service is a meaningful part of Penn State Athletics and the mission of all 31 teams on campus. Creating a bond between the athletic department’s 800 student-athletes and different sectors of the community is a significant piece to creating a world-class experience on the University Park campus. And with more than 8,000 hours of service completed in the past year, Penn State teams are leaving their mark on so much more than the success in competition arenas.

Last Updated August 18, 2016