Jan. 26, 2006
Prior to the start of the 2005-06 academic year, Notre Dame junior forward Crystal Erwin approached Irish coordinator of women’s basketball operations Stephanie Menio about the possibility of finding a way to give back to the young people of the South Bend community through a mentoring program. In turn, Menio spoke with Nan Tulchinsky, the athletics director for the South Bend Community School Corporation (and long-time official scorer at Notre Dame basketball games), who arranged for Erwin to mentor 15-20 female students at Dickinson Middle School in South Bend.
Many of the young ladies in this group need special attention and a positive role model to help guide them through their formative years. Erwin meets with this group at least once per week for 1-2 hours in the afternoon at Dickinson Middle School, preparing a lesson plan that focuses on dealing with life’s daily struggles and temptations, including drugs, alcohol, violence, respect and education, that these young women deal with regularly.
In addition to her position as a role model in the South Bend community through her playing career with the Notre Dame women’s basketball team, Erwin has had numerous difficult life experiences, many of which came during her childhood back home in Los Angeles, that have made her a particularly effective speaker and mentor for the Dickinson Middle School group.
“It’s important that these girls understand that they’re not the only ones who go through these challenges,” Erwin said. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of these same things myself and I know it’s not easy. I hope that they will hear what I went through and how I was able to stay positive and get to the place I’m at right now here at Notre Dame. That way, they can see that it is possible for great things to happen in their lives, no matter the circumstances.”
And while Erwin’s impact on the lives of these young women is unmistakable, what might go overlooked is the effect they have had on Erwin. During the course of the 2005-06 season, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team (and Erwin herself) have gone through their share of ups and downs, and yet, Erwin has remained positive and uplifting, thanks in part to the enthusiasm and spirit of her mentoring group.
Never was that more evident than on Jan. 25. Less than 24 hours after a difficult loss on the road at Rutgers, Erwin found herself standing before a band of eager ladies at Dickinson Middle School, organizing a series of skits dealing with the consequences of smoking, teen violence and child abuse. Afterwards, the group circled up around Erwin to talk about what they had learned from the skits and how those lessons apply to their lives right here in South Bend.
“Seeing these girls each week reminds me what’s really important in the world right now,” Erwin said. “Definitely, I get upset after we lose because I’m a naturally competitive person. I want to win as badly as anyone on our team and it hurts when we don’t succeed. But it means so much to me to watch these young women win in a game that’s a lot more serious — life.”