On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Gateway Education Center in Greensboro, you will see a lot of blue and gold at the yellow school bus. As students enter for the school day, UNC Greensboro Spartans are helping them get started.
Since September 2023, UNCG student-athletes have been assisting the Gateway students three times a week. The Guilford County school works with children who have severe cognitive, physical and/or medical disabilities.
GOING FULL THROTTLE
The idea to volunteer came from Luke Jenkins, a third-year baseball player, who is now the Head of Community Engagement for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). The purpose of the SAAC is to give student-athletes the opportunity to be an active voice within intercollegiate athletics and the University. The committee consists of two student-athletes from each team and an “alternate” who will attend meetings if either of the team representatives is unable to attend.
“When I was asked to be the Head of Community Engagement, I said I was going to go ‘full throttle.’ It wasn’t going to be something that we were half in, half out of,” says Jenkins, a communication studies major with a minor in business.
When looking for a way to get into the community, Jenkins reached out to a school he knew well – Gateway Education Center. His sister attended the school for more than twenty years and his mother was the PTA president.
“I grew up around Gateway and was there after school all the time, so I thought it would be a great place for us to volunteer,” Jenkins says. “The school has been understaffed for the past couple of years and they have a hard time getting kids into the school efficiently because a lot of them are in wheelchairs.”
A HUMBLING EXPERIENCE
Jenkins recruited his fellow student-athletes to go to the school in the mornings and help the students as they exit the school bus and make their way into the building. School staff welcomed them with open arms.
“The administration is very grateful and appreciative for what we do, and it’s cool for us as student-athletes too,” he says. “A lot of times, we don’t realize the impact we have on the community.”
Nearly 30 student-athletes across every UNCG sports team volunteered. But while the overall impact is positive, Jenkins admits it was not a natural activity for some student-athletes.
“It was a little foreign to some of these student-athletes that have never been around children who are severely handicapped,” says Jenkins. “A lot of the Gateway students are not communicative so it can be uncomfortable for some at first. I think it’s been a humbling experience for these student-athletes.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Their work hasn’t stopped at helping the kids in the mornings. The student-athletes also worked with the school for a fall festival – interacting with the Gateway students as everyone played games and socialized. Just like with sports, practice makes perfect, and the student-athletes quickly became not only familiar with their tasks but also created bonds with the Gateway students.
“At the end of the fall semester, it was cool to see the kids smile when they get off the bus and see the UNCG students waiting for them,” Jenkins says. “My favorite part of this whole experience is seeing my teammates and other student-athletes build relationships with the kids.”
Story by Avery Craine Powell, University Communications
Photography by Denise Archetto, UNCG Athletics