This story originally appeared on TexasSports.com.
As much as any team on the Forty Acres, Texas Soccer knows the importance of community, and because of that, the Longhorns seek out opportunities to give back.
Every Wednesday morning of this spring semester, the team has volunteered at both Dell Children’s Medical Center and the Ronald McDonald House, a complex of 30 suites for families who have children in area hospitals.
“Once we started working with the children, we all fell in love with what a great cause this is,” said student athlete Hannah Higgins. “We get excited to come back every single week. It’s such a pleasure and honor to be surrounded by such a good group of girls and coaches who are willing to give back to the community. We want them to know how much we appreciate them.”
Senior Erica Campanelli was recently awarded the Coca-Cola Solid Citizen Award, which recognizes Campanelli’s dedication to service and community.
At Dell Children’s, the Longhorns typically work in the infusion center, where children of all ages are waiting for or receiving treatment. Vanessa Ibewuike, a recent transfer from Purdue, was a fast hit with the children because of her penchant for magic tricks.
The Longhorns’ work at the Ronald McDonald House is less entertaining – but just as vital. The Ronald McDonald House aims to provide families the comforts of home during a child’s hospitalization, and that includes a comfortable place to sleep and good meals to eat.
“We have so many little tasks that need to be completed – sterilizing, dusting or room cleaning. We depend on volunteers to make that happen for us,” said Jan Gunter, communications manager for Ronald McDonald Charities. “It’s great to let our families know that we have support and that the community is behind us. Having the team come in weekly has been a huge help for us.”
The Longhorns have done everything from clean out air vents to weed the front lawn, which features a stream of memory stones for children who passed on while families were at the residence.
“I enjoy this because I know we’re doing something that is going to help these families. They’re going to appreciate it,” Ibewuike said. “There’s some Wednesdays you don’t want to get up and come up here. But then you ask yourself, ‘Am I going to be lazy, or am I going to go help someone?’”
The infusion center at Dell Children’s is decorated with a significant UT theme – Longhorns from every sport are featured as the room’s wall paper. Children from 46 counties in and around Austin go here for treatment, so the idea is to provide them with positive, healthy role models, both on the walls and in person.
Mary Frasher, the arts coordinator at Dell Children’s Hospital, says it’s inevitable for volunteers to be impacted during their time of service.
“When you’re an athlete working so hard in the classroom, to maintain your athletic health and represent your institution, that’s an incredible amount of stress. Then you meet a four year old going through leukemia, you think ‘Well, maybe I don’t have it so bad,’” Frasher said. “It’s win-win on both sides.”