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Students and retirees connect through tennis team’s adopt-a-grandparent program

Volunteer grandparents from a local retirement home are the No. 1 fans of Erskine’s tennis team. Erskine College photo

Members of the Erskine women’s tennis team close every summer with an outing at South Carolina’s Lake Murray, where they soak up sun and clear their minds before a new academic year begins. 

In summer 2018, the student-athletes invited not only their families but also local retirees with whom they had built relationships over the past year. As coach Calhoun Parr surveyed the scene at the lake, he recognized the impact of the outreach program he brought to his team nearly two decades ago. 

“When students go away to college, they’re far from home, family and childhood friends,” Parr says. “The seniors in the retirement home sometimes were far from their families, too. In adopting a grandparent, students get to find that sense of family here at school.” 

When Parr arrived at Erskine in 2000, he knew he wanted to embed a service project in the program. He believed it was important for student-athletes to provide meaningful service to the greater community of Due West, South Carolina. 

Parr saw that opportunity at the Renaissance Retirement Home near Erskine’s tennis facility, and he worked with a representative from the retirement community to build an adopt-a-grandparent program. Today residents sign up to participate and are paired with an “adopted” granddaughter from the women’s tennis team. Each year, when new student-athletes join the team, they are matched with volunteer grandparents based on personality and interests. The students and volunteer grandparents meet for lunch weekly. 

Parr notes student-athletes are often nervous about their pairing at first, but once matched, they find the get-togethers enjoyable and fulfilling.  

“When young people are in college, they are forming their values and learning about who they are,” he says. “The volunteer grandparents serve as a great resource for them as they figure things out.” 

The retirees benefit, as well. “Often the grandparents are lonely, with rare visitors,” Parr says. “The time spent with their adopted grandchild gives them something to look forward to each week.” 

The team’s grandparent project leader, junior biology major Katie Loudermilk, works with Parr and Ann Grubb, the Renaissance representative, to create the perfect pairings. Loudermilk notes the student-athletes and grandparents enjoy a monthly game night, and the grandparents like to cheer on the team at home tennis matches.  

“I have realized that I am able to talk to my adopted grandmother about family issues I may deal with, and in turn, she shares stories with me,” she says. “She appreciates that I am able to help her out with errands and spend quality time with her since a lot of her family live far away.” 

Senior accounting major and team captain Rachel Berkey began teaching an aerobics class at Renaissance, where she became close with Don and Joanna Kennedy, two of the original volunteers in the tennis team’s program. Berkey is now paired with the couple as her “grandparents.” 

“I realized that I like to hang out with and meet the volunteer grandparents,” Berkey says, “because I enjoy connecting with them and learning how much the world has changed since they were my age.”   

FUTURE SUBJECTS FOR LEARNING MODULES MIGHT INCLUDE:

More Acts of Kindness

Connecting on the court: In January, Dickinson men’s and women’s basketball hosted a basketball camp for Helping Another Hand, a volunteer group designed to help children with disabilities get involved with sports. The student-athletes served as volunteer coaches during the camp, teaching the kids how to dribble, pass and shoot. Campers also played a few basketball games during the four-hour program. 

A day for girls: In celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, Kansas State athletics hosted a pregame clinic Feb. 2 for girls in first through eighth grades. Kansas State student-athletes from the women’s teams participated in the event through hosting feature stations that exposed attendees to a number of different sports. Participants also received free admission to the women’s basketball game against Iowa State that followed the event. 

Thanks for furloughed federal employees: During the winter’s government shutdown, Notre Dame swimming and diving and women’s basketball programs teamed up to support furloughed federal employees at the South Bend International Airport. Coaches and student-athletes provided lunch for the workers and thanked them for their commitment to keeping travelers safe.  

Focus on body positivity: In the fall, Southern California women’s basketball and Trojan Outreach hosted Dribbles and Scribbles — a body-positivity workshop — with the students of Birdielee V. Bright Elementary School. In addition to a basketball clinic run by the university’s coaches, the team sat down with students to create self-portraits, highlighting the traits and qualities that made each participant feel beautiful. After a day full of body-positive exercises and encouraging words, the team closed out the afternoon with a “Love Conquers All” pledge, celebrating and reinforcing self-love for the young girls. 

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    Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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