On a typical April day in Walsh Gymnasium, there are no basketballs being dribbled, passed or shot. There may be a lone player shooting the ball around, or a random student or two playing ball in the field house, but more than likely the gym will be empty.
Last Friday afternoon, April 20, there was a different feeling to the Richie Regan Athletic Center because of the more than 100 elementary and middle school students roaming the gym and field house participating in the “Sailor for the Day” program and the middle school pen pal program.
“I like giving back,” junior soccer player Jennifer Pettigrew said. “I like writing to the kids. This day is fun for everyone.”
Both events, which are a part of the athletic department’s community service initiative, provide local youth with the opportunity to connect with Seton Hall’s varsity athletes.
The “Sailors for the Day” program is the result of a year-long community project stemming from the efforts of the Center of Community Research and Engagement (CCRE) and the Non-Profit Student Association at Seton Hall University.
Eighty students from local elementary schools participated in a basketball clinic with the Seton Hall women’s basketball team in Walsh Gymnasium.
Juniors Brittany Morris and Terry Green led the students through passing, shooting and rebounding drills with the hope of instilling a “hard work leads to success” mentality.
“To be successful you need to focus, eat well, work hard and hustle,” sophomore Alex Maseko said during the question and answer period following the workout.
Laura Melendez-Pallito, the director of CCRE, said the reaction from the program is more than anyone could expect.
“My favorite thing they said was ‘when I go to college.” That’s exactly what we wanted,” Melendez-Pallito said. “We tutor and mentor all year and this is the end. We want to do a literary reading summer program.”
Down the hall from the gym, 22 students from St. Francis Xavier in Bloomfield were interacting with athletes from all different sports that are a part of the pen pal program.
“The art of letter writing gets lost,” Matthew Geibel, director of Academic Support Services said. “This program allows younger kids to get to know friends at the college level, while working on their writing skills at the same time.”
The writing program began in 1994 between Seton Hall and St. Rose. When St. Rose closed in the Newark area, the program shifted to St. Francis Xavier and has flourished ever since.
“It’s evolved,” Candida Esposito, a teacher at St. Francis who has been a part of the program since its inception, said. “The students love when the athletes come.”
“The lessons are different coming from other people,” Esposito continued. “They look up to the athletes. The more the students connect with the athletes, the program benefits.”
Rita McMann, the classroom teacher of the seventh grade students said once the letters come, the excitement in the classroom rises to a different level.
“They’re jumping,” she said. “They can’t wait to read the letters. I have to use it as bribery. Most of the time, they will hand back letters within days. The athletes have inspired them.”
Pettigrew, who has been with the pen pal program since her freshman year at Seton Hall, said the end of year event that brings everyone together is the best part.
“My favorite part is when the kids come,” Pettigrew said. “It’s nice to see their faces when we do stuff for them.”
Tim LeCras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.