Notre Dame hockey players (from l-r) Joe Lavin, Kevin Nugent and Mike Johnson participate in the annual Buddy Walk.

Making A Difference - Notre Dame Student Welfare And Development

Sept. 29, 2010

By Lauren Chval

When student-athletes arrive on campus for orientation and preseason practices in late August, coaches and administrators do their best to make the students feel at home at Notre Dame. The Student Welfare and Development office, a part of the Athletic Department, contributes to this process as a resource for cultivating athletes and helping them through the challenges they face over their four years at the university.

Student Welfare and Development implements programs focusing on five areas: academic, athletic, career, personal and community. Former Irish softball standout Sarah Smith `08, and a member of the staff, works with the community aspect of the program and explains the office as an infinite supply of support for the student-athletes.

“We’re kind of just a huge resource for athletes in terms of everything that doesn’t have to do with their sport,” Smith says.

“So career development, personal development–which could mean leadership, which could mean faith. Pretty much anything kids they’re dealing with, come to us and talk about it. If it’s something outside of us or we think that they need more help, we’re going to send them to resources on campus that can handle it–say the counseling center. So we have a good relationship with all these different people on campus.”

Junior Emily Crosby both rows for Notre Dame and is president of Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). She has been involved with Student Development and Welfare through her leadership of SAAC and in service projects and says the office is crucial to helping student-athletes navigate the difficulties of college life.

“As a student-athlete, we face challenges in our daily lives that regular students may not experience,” Crosby says.

“Not only do we push our bodies to their physical limits on a daily basis, but we’re expected to be attentive in class after a 6 a.m. lift, and complete hours of homework when we have 20 fewer hours per week than most students. Student Welfare and Development really helps athletes find a balance. They know of every resource that can help students who are struggling–either academically, physically or mentally–and they can set you up with whatever you need. It’s great to have a resource that understands what you’re going through and is always willing to help.”

Smith’s focus within the office is service, which she says makes her job incredibly rewarding. All of the service comes from the athletes voluntarily, which has a large impact on the community.

“Community service is a huge piece,” Smith says. “Our kids aren’t required to do any hours, but it’s a priority. This place being Notre Dame, and the missions of the university, it’s a priority to give back. It’s definitely part of this office–just being active in the community and getting our students out there. You definitely can tell you’re making a difference–working with people in the community and working with kids, because they look up to athletes. I don’t think I’ll ever have a job that makes me feel this good about what I do everyday.”

Last year, Smith headed a project called Soles for Souls, an effort to send shoes to people in Haiti after the earthquake. Smith says each team gave around two or three large boxes of shoes, and all together she collected near 2,000 pairs. She worked out a deal with FedEx so that they could ship the shoes to the organization in Tennessee for free.

Crosby was one of the student-athletes who devoted time under Smith’s direction, making posters and collecting shoes from other athletes.

“What I remember most is sorting through thousands of pairs of shoes with other volunteers under the bleachers in the basketball arena,” Crosby says. “It was the only place that had enough room to store them all. There were big sneakers that we speculated came from basketball players, softball and baseball cleats, running shoes with hundreds of miles on them, and little kids shoes with comic book characters or lights in the heels. It was fun to think about where they all came from and where they’d been, but even more rewarding to think about where they were going.”

Smith has started organizing service projects for the athletes to get involved in this year, ranging from speaking in local schools to adopting a child with cancer. Next semester, she hopes to take students down to the Gulf of Mexico during spring break to help with the oil spill.

Currently, Smith is helping athletes get involved in Life Works Dream Teams, a project she participated in herself when she was a student-athlete at Notre Dame.

“It’s a nonprofit that helps put together this five-week curriculum and athletes go in groups of four or five to fourth-grade classrooms and teach kids about pursuing a goal or how to overcome your obstacles, stuff like that,” Smith says.

“It’s something that the kids really enjoy because it has an obvious purpose–the kids just adore you once they get to know you, you’re like a rock star to them.”

Junior Natalie Novosel plays basketball for the Irish and will be participating in the Life Works Dream Team project once it starts up. As a student athlete, she appreciates all that Student Welfare and Development offers in support.

“As athletes, we can make a big difference in people’s lives, and any chance we can serve the community, the more we are giving back to them in the same way that they support and cheer us on,” Novosel said.

“Beyond our glory days in college, life happens. Student Welfare aids us in preparing for our futures by helping us organize.”