Reaching Out to the Community

Student-athletes at Wake Forest University have necessarily full calendars: classes, labs and study groups, plus practices, workouts and team meetings. Nonetheless, most Demon Deacons find time in their schedules to reach out to their community and to prepare for life after the careers at Wake Forest come to an end.

In 1991, the Athletes Care Team (ACT) was instituted at Wake Forest, drawing together in organized fashion the community outreach program of the Athletic Department. Under the guidance of a student-run council, ACT develops and implements programs aimed at improving the lives of area residents, especially the youth of Winston-Salem, with an emphasis on long-term caring and commitment.

ACT's dual purposes are to make worthwhile commitments and contributions to the community, while at the same time provide ACT members with leadership opportunities and improved self-esteem.

In 1995, the ACT program became a key component of a larger effort, known as CHAMPS.

"The purpose of CHAMPS is to prepare student-athletes for life after athletics," says Charlie Davis, Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Enhancement and Community Programs. "In doing so, they are realizing that they are more than student-athletes. They can positively impact the community and the world if they so choose."

CHAMPS offers student-athletes the opportunity to influence their experience as Demon Deacons through leadership opportunities. CHAMPS has a board system, including the Student-Athlete Athletic Council and the Athlete's Care Council.

"These councils are proactive," says Davis. "The student-athletes determine what we do: what seminars we run for their enhancement, what workshops we offer and what activities we plan throughout the year."

Over the past year, the CHAMPS program has developed a newsletter and a website, as well as implementing a peer helper program. In addition, an annual catalog of student-athletes resumes is compiled, career seminars are held, and, of course, the Athletes Care Team is going strong.

ACT includes assistance with existing programs such as Wake Forest's Project Pumpkin and the Special Olympics, along with several ACT initiatives. The ACT tutoring program involves an 8-week commitment to at-risk students in nearby elementary schools. The Santa's Helper program has, for 11 years, arranged for a visit from Santa to underprivileged children in the Winston-Salem area. The ACT Speakers Bureau utilizes the positive impression children have of athletes to spread a message about achieving success. Charlie's Kids brought over 1750 children to Wake Forest athletic events in 1996-97.

New to the ACT agenda in 1996-97 was FamilyFest, which introduced children from low-income families to a wide range of sports. A program of visits to the elderly residents of Independence Village was also initiated in 1996-97.

"FamilyFest is a new component of our service branch," says Davis. "I believe it will become an important part of our outreach. It allows us to offer Olympic sports to the community as well as to encourage parents to come out and be involved. I hope in the future we will have more than one FamilyFest each year."

Involvement in both CHAMPS and ACT is voluntary, yet each year over 200 student-athletes participate. In 1996-97, ACT members volunteered over 2,000 hours, reaching 8900 children, tutoring for over 1200 hours and bringing over 1700 children to Wake Forest events.

"We've been fortunate," says Davis, "that we have quality people who come to Wake Forest to excel in athletics, but they realize that they can do more. With all that we ask of them, they still look to help others. Everything we do is voluntary, and the student-athletes truly have the power to decide what programs we undertake."

Many football players have become involved in the ACT and CHAMPS. For example, Abdul Guice and Brian Walls are part of the CHAMPS council. Kenyon Chavis was among many Deacs who volunteered at the Special Olympics. Joe Zelenka and David Cerchio donned the red suit and beard for Santa's Helper in 1996.

"The commitment, talent and generosity of our student-athletes never ceases to amaze me," says Davis. "Their involvement is so important, both for them and for those that they help. They have flat-out taken a pride in what they've accomplished through CHAMPS and the huge impact they've made on the community through the Athletes Care Team."