Published: Feb 22, 2013
“I carve out time to spend with the St. Peter Claver students because I feel like they are at such an impressionable age that it is important they have good role models around them,” said Berkley Whaley ’16.
The volleyball team began volunteering this semester going twice a week to the school.
“It’s just amazing for me to think that these girls have so much going on outside of school, and they still smile genuinely and have these little hearts full of love,” said Frances Cardenas ’14.
While it’s only been a couple of weeks since the UT volleyball team started tutoring students at St. Peter Claver Catholic School, they all have felt a special connection.
Frances Cardenas ’14 is working with two girls who are 6 and 7 years old who don’t know how to read. They are cousins who live under the same roof because one family lost their house.
“It’s just amazing for me to think that these girls have so much going on outside of school, and they still smile genuinely and have these little hearts full of love,” said Cardenas, a psychology major.
The students lack basic supplies like pencils and notebooks, so Cardenas has tried to help out.
“I brought them a notebook once, and they loved it,” she said. “They shared it and even drew me some pictures saying how much they loved me.”
The volleyball team began volunteering this semester. They go just north of downtown Tampa twice a week to the 119-year-old school, where 90 percent of the students are eligible for reduced fees. The school runs on donations, grants and student scholarships.
“It certainly is an eye-opening experience to see these kids fighting everything that seems to be against them, but they still come to school and smile without complaining or using their situations as an excuse,” Cardenas said. “It makes us be grateful for everything we have, and sometimes it even makes me want to give these girls everything that I don't need.”
Assistant athletic director and head volleyball coach Chris Catanach had heard about the school through his church. He saw an opportunity for his players to get involved.
“Our players can be tremendous role models,” Catanach said. “If even one of these kids is motivated to some day attend college and have a better life, then the program will be a success. Hopefully the remedial help they receive will propel them to greater success in the classroom as well.”
Holly Reschke ’15 wants to be an elementary school teacher. Getting involved for her didn’t come with a second thought.
“It's a great feeling having such a positive impact on someone’s life, especially at such a young age,” Reschke said. “You never know, you could be the someone in their life that believes in them and makes them want to change their life in a positive way.”
Despite a full schedule between classes, practices and extracurricular activities, Kim Amerell ’15 said college isn’t about being self-involved.
“When I sit there and think how busy my schedule is and how hard I might have it, these kids remind me that there are people out there who have much more challenging situations,” said Amerell, an allied health major. “The most heartwarming feeling is when you get to school and the kids come running up to you with their huge smiles and laughter and give you a hug. It impacts me every time I get to spend time with them.”
Berkley Whaley ’16 also volunteers at breast cancer walks and at an assisted living facility in St. Petersburg. She does it because she knows how much her time is appreciated.
“I carve out time to spend with the St. Peter Claver students because I feel like they are at such an impressionable age that it is important they have good role models around them,” said Whaley, an advertising and public relations major. “They are such nice kids; they just need a little bit of guidance to stay on track to succeed in school and eventually, in life.”
Jackie Neff ’15, an allied health major, said after tutoring the team will go outside with the kids to play games. However, it’s her time with the students one-on-one that is making the difference.
“One of my boys did not understand how to do some subtraction problems, and I sat down with him for over an hour to try and explain it at a slower pace. The next week he was able to do his math homework without my help,” Neff said. “Seeing that improvement in their education is the whole goal of it. I want them to excel in school and have an opportunity to do whatever they want in life. Seeing that progress, even though it is small, makes it all worth while.”
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