Jan. 31, 2013
Right from the start, the Jesuit idea of men and women for others is instilled in the students who come to Boston College. The Devlin Student-Athletes for Education and Leadership Development Program (S-AFE) embodies this motto encouraging the BC student-athletes to give back.
The S-AFE program was first developed by Michael and Matt Devlin at Tulane University in 2006 in response to the need for outreach following Hurricane Katrina. The program took off at Tulane and became a required part of the undergraduate curriculum there. With the success at Tulane, the Devlins saw the opportunity to expand the program on a national level and began talks with BC in 2007. The following year, S-AFE was implemented at the Heights.
The choice to focus on service from student-athletes came to Michael Devlin because he sees them as natural leaders in the community.
"It was about student-athletes as role models and what they can do in a community and how it, in turn, can help develop the individual person who does that outreach," Devlin said. "If you can have a group of student-athletes go into the community then kids can look up to them as role models much quicker than others."
Senior defensive tackle Bryan Murray is one of the student-athletes who has become highly involved in the S-AFE program since becoming an Eagle. In fact, it was the emphasis on community service at the Heights that drew him to BC as he had been involved in the community at his high school back home in Maryland.
The program that Murray took particular interest in was the service trip to New Orleans geared towards rebuilding homes in the aftermath of Katrina. The trip is the hallmark of the S-AFE program at BC. Murray heard good things about it and saw it as a chance to try something new the first time he went.
"It was a great opportunity to do something," Murray said. "There aren't a lot of opportunities when you are busy with a Division I sport so whenever there is an opportunity to do something like that, you have to jump at it."
Murray jumped on the opportunity a total of three times, becoming a leader on the trip this year. Having previous experience, Murray took it upon himself to help out the other participants with everything from making sure to pack a lunch to suggesting which sights to see. The trip is important to Murray because it allows student-athletes to branch out from their usual routines and experience the larger world around them.
"So many athletes get stuck in that bubble where they are only here for their sport and learning," Murray said. "I think college is so much bigger than that. It's who you meet; it's the experiences you have. Service allows you to do a lot of the other things you can't always do. It allows you to reach out to others and impact lives. It means so much to people."
While the people whom the student-athletes help certainly get a lot out of the service, the reward is not all one sided. For Alison Quandt, the director of student-athlete development, seeing the rewards the individual athletes get out of giving back makes her feel like S-AFE is making a difference. She also sees the value in the relationships that the students form with one another through service, particularly on the New Orleans trip.
"They cross all these boundaries. At the beginning of the trip, one or two of participants may know one or two others they are going down there with, but by the end of the week, there is a fencer sitting with a lineman on the football team talking about life. They might have crossed paths otherwise, but they were able to form camaraderie around this common goal," Quandt said.
Relationships also form between the athletes and the people they are helping. Murray fondly recalls spending a day making friendship bracelets with a group of little girls at an afterschool program for inner-city youth in New Orleans.
"I didn't know how to do it and I saw these girls do it so quickly because they have little tiny fingers and I was struggling because my fingers are so big," Murray remembered. "I couldn't make the little loops but I worked all day with the girls to make [a bracelet] for myself and I still have it in my locker."
Quandt had her own story of an student-athlete making a strong connection with a young child. A group of fifth-year seniors on the football team went to work with special needs students in the Newton public schools every Friday this past fall.
"This one kid in the program, who is severely autistic, didn't talk to anybody and one of our students, [football player] Colin Larmond Jr., got him to open up, Quandt recalled. "It was unbelievable to see this student, who otherwise would probably totally be shut down with all these different triggers, but Colin got him to talk, got him engaged and he is on a different path now. Our kids don't know the true impact they have by only giving up their time," Quandt said.
It is stories like that that make the S-AFE program so worthwhile for Quandt. Devlin agrees that it is seeing the fruits of their labor that really makes service work so special.
"Seeing the effect that student-athletes at BC have when they complete that task it gives a whole different meaning of life that we can come together and help one another.," Devlin said.
For Murray, the impact of the S-AFE program is undeniable for improving his college experience, as well as improving the lives of others.
"It makes such a huge difference," Murray said. "When you have a group of athletes, 20-something, strong people that can go down to New Orleans, for example, and work hard and use their abilities to rebuild. And there is so much you learn as a student-athlete about discipline and time management that you can bestow on a younger crowd when we visit schools."
With the popularity of the program in New Orleans, there is a huge demand for another service trip. It is not just the big trips though, as Quandt says she is constantly asked by different teams if they can do something locally.
"It's challenging because it can be hard to find a place for them to go, but it's a great problem to have," Quandt said. "We have all these people that want to help and want to do things. Finding opportunities to consistently make an impact is where we can grow."
As the S-AFE program thrives at Boston College, Devlin hopes that it can expand to other schools. He also wants to see more outreach programs at BC so that more students have the chance to participate and take on the leadership roles that come with community service.
Service has become a staple of Boston College athletics and Quandt believes that by continuing to expand S-AFE the experience for student-athletes will only improve.
"What we're trying to do is provide student-athletes the opportunity to grow and to learn," Quandt said. "Athletics Director Brad Bates calls them athletic classrooms and this is another one of those classrooms. My goal is to prepare them for when they leave here so they can go be great at whatever they end up doing. They're also going to remember what it means to serve others and to give back to other people. There might not be a syllabus or a lesson plan, but there is a take away from every single one of these events."
Written by Eddie Lockhart