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NCAA staff gives back

One unit provides Christmas presents for a new family every year

When she wakes up on Christmas morning, Tabatha Sutton will imagine a 12-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl beaming ear to ear as they unwrap presents.

They won’t be visions of her children. The administrative assistant for the NCAA’s academic and membership affairs staff will be thinking, as she has many times before, of another Indianapolis family’s holiday wishes fulfilled thanks to the department’s enduring tradition.

 “I mark my calendar every year at the end of October,” Sutton says, “just as a reminder to contact [United Christmas Service].”

 The service, established in 1952 by the United Way of Central Indiana, enlists volunteers to adopt donor families or give directly to assistance funds. The AMA staff has volunteered with the program for the nearly a decade.

 AMA’s approach to paying it forward has spread across the NCAA national office, with many departments organizing their own volunteer efforts. Communications is also adopting a family this year. Administrative services hosts a supply drive for Coburn Place, a safe haven and counseling center for transitioning families. And the NCAA Eligibility Center is assisting the Lillian Davis Foundation with a special school breakfast.

 In recent years, Sutton has spearheaded her department’s work with the United Christmas Service; she speaks with the families to get a sense of what their needs are and what the kids are hoping for on Christmas. Sometimes, Sutton admits, the responses can be heartbreaking.

 “They’re not asking for iPads or toys,” she said. “They’re asking for clothes, and that hits you.”

 Any warm clothing – stocking caps, coats, gloves, scarves, boots and shoes – non-perishable food to fill the pantry, cleaning supplies and toilet paper are among the annual go-to purchases. The father in this year’s family just began a job in demolition, so keeping warm outdoors will be vital. The mother enjoys cooking. The kids, lively pre-teens, do have a couple of toys on their lists, including a remote-controlled helicopter. Once the list is settled, Sutton and volunteers write the items on notes – they're in the shapes of snowflakes this year – and post them in an open workspace for staff to pick what they wish to donate.

 The plan isn’t finished once gifts are purchased. Members of AMA wrap the gifts and store them until they are ready to distribute. Generally, five or six staff members make the personal delivery to the family’s household about one week before Christmas.

 “I just think, on Christmas morning, about them opening the gifts. I wonder how it’s going,” Sutton said. “The families, they are very grateful.”


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