Community service is not just a buzzword with the University of Central Arkansas Athletics department. And that is by design.
In its mission statement, UCA Athletics states: “The university through its intercollegiate athletics program seeks to prepare student-athletes for productive, fulfilling and responsible lives.” Also: “The university … embraces the opportunity to enhance its outreach to the surrounding communities through positive impressions embodied in the efforts of student-athletes.”
“One of our main principles is the student-athlete experience,” said Brad Teague, director of Athletics. “What that means for us is to develop the whole student. Community service is a major, major part of that focus. Our department organizes many opportunities for giving back to the community each semester, and our teams always respond to the call.
“But what is truly impressive to me is that our teams seek out additional opportunities. Many have a consistent service project or philanthropy, or even several, year in and year out. These experiences serve a mutually beneficial role, and we are proud our student-athletes do it so well and so willingly.”
The 18 UCA Athletics teams have consistently totaled more than 2,000 cumulative hours of community service each school year encompassing all sports.
“Community service gives our players a chance to give back to our community, a community that supports them and encourages them,” said Jeremy Bishop, who is in his seventh season as head coach of UCA’s women’s soccer team.
“Service for others is a great way for our athletes to practice life skills that are very important for their development as they grow into future leaders in their communities. They get to advocate for groups that need help; they learn compassion and understanding.”
The women’s soccer team has one particular community service entity that hits closer to home than most. The annual Freezin for a Reason road race was established by former UCA soccer player Amanda Copley Mulhearn and her husband, Travis, in honor of their two daughters, Charlotte Diane and Stella Rose, both of whom passed away from rare diseases in 2007 and 2012, respectively. Both were treated at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, which is the benefactor of the annual race.
“Over the years we have helped out with various events at several of the elementary schools here in Conway,” Bishop said. “We have helped out at several locations around Conway that provide services to those in our area that are less fortunate, and several other events organized by our Student Athlete Advisory Council. But one of our favorite events is always Freezin for a Reason.”
UCA’s student-athletes participate in a wide variety of community service projects, such as the Conway Kids Triathlon, Samaritan’s Feet and Operation Christmas Child.
“Not only are we serving and giving back to our community,” Teague said, “but we are teaching our student-athletes the value of service. We are instilling core values that will carry these young men and women into the future. That’s what being a student-athlete at Central Arkansas is all about.”
Arkansas Dream Center
The Arkansas Dream Center reaches out to those in need in communities across the state of Arkansas, serves their needs and restores their dreams!
Braves Baseball, a youth league program sponsored by Conway Parks and Recreation, provides boys and girls with special needs the opportunity to play baseball. The league plays at Conway Braves Field at Curtis Park, which is uniquely designed to provide players with special needs a robust baseball experience. Members of the UCA baseball team serve as buddies for the Braves players.
Conway Cradle Care
Mission: “To help teens that become pregnant or have a child complete their education by supporting their academic and emotional needs as well as the developmental needs of their children.”
Conway Kids Triathlon
The First Security Conway Kids’ Triathlon is one of the country’s premier youth triathlons. It is a morning full of triathlon fun for kids of all abilities from ages 6-15.
Diabetes One Walk
JDRF One Walk has one goal: to create a world without type 1 diabetes (T1D).
Operation Christmas Child
Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, delivers gift-filled shoeboxes to the hands of needy children.
Pine Street Backpack Program
The goal of this organization is to provide school supplies for children in grades K-12 from low-income families that live in the Pine Street community and surrounding areas of the city of Conway and Faulkner County.
Read to Succeed Program
The Read to Succeed Program was started by the UCA football team and involves student-athletes reading to Conway area elementary students on a regular basis throughout the season.
Samaritan’s Feet serves and inspires hope in children by providing shoes as the foundation to a spiritual and healthy life resulting in the advancement of education and economic opportunities.
Soaring Wings Half Marathon
The Soaring Wings Half Marathon and 10k benefits Soaring Wings Ranch, a Christ-centered home for children providing long-term foster care for those who have been abused, neglected, orphaned or are otherwise in need of a chance to soar.
TOPSoccer is an adapted soccer program for children with special needs, ages 3-18. The program is designed to give everyone a chance to play and to foster the values of teamwork, pride and accomplishment within each player.
Student-athletes have raised funds and supplies for hurricane victims in Texas and Louisiana and performed community service work following tornadoes in the Conway area over the past few years.
Toys for Tots
Presently, the Marine Toys for Tots Program distributes an average of 18 million toys to 7 million less fortunate children annually.
United Way Stuff the Bus
The United Way of Central Arkansas “Stuff the Bus” is an annual school supply and toiletry drive. The initiative eases the financial burden on families with school-aged children who are struggling to make ends meet, giving a student who is in need the required supplies to promote learning, encourage self-esteem and help kids stay in school. It’s more than school supplies. It’s the first step to prepare students for a fulfilling, successful future.