#TGW: Runs In The Family

Nov. 18, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Members of Georgia Tech sports teams are proud of Yellow Jackets fans’ ability to pack the house for their games.

Last week, it was their turn to turn out and fill up a building in support of a good cause. They did not disappoint.

The building was the Arthur Edge Athletics Center. The occasion was the second annual Donor Thank-a-Thon Week, which ran last Monday through Thursday. The result was standing-room-only all four nights.

The lobby of the Edge Center was a flurry of activity, as athletes from every sport and the spirit squads — donor lists in hand — took a seat in whatever available area of the building they could find and got on the phone calling donors or took a seat at tables in the adjoining conference room to write thank you notes.

To say the student-athletes were enthusiastic in showing their gratitude would be an understatement.

“It’s awesome to see the student-athlete support. We had a goal to get every athlete here from Tech at least one night,” said softball player and SAAB Vice President Caitlyn Coffey. “Every SAAB rep from their respective sport made it a goal to tell our respective teams, one night, make a 30-minute commitment and it’s worked out well.”

It worked out so well, and the enthusiasm from the student-athletes was so great that the Alexander-Tharpe Fund was more in danger of running out of people to call than people to make calls.

“They’re just blowing it out of the water compared to last year. Last year was great. This year has been unbelievable,” said Kevin Kitchens, Director of Annual Giving for Athletics for the Alexander-Tharpe Fund on Wednesday night. “We had to print out more donor lists today to make sure that we didn’t run out for tonight and we still have one more night tomorrow. We’re just super-excited by the turnout from our student-athletes. We couldn’t be happier with what they’re trying to do to say ‘Thank you’ to our donors.”

The enthusiasm impressed Brandon Gaudin, “The Voice of The Jackets,” who was on hand helping shoot a short video piece on the drive, which will be viewable on YouTube in the coming days.

“What you’ve got to realize is no one is forcing these students to be here,” he said. “The sheer volume, the number of student-athletes that are here are here on their own time, of their own volition, willing to help. Over 250. You can say that student-athletes are great everywhere, and they are, but when you get that type of a number, that just goes to show you that Georgia Tech is a little more special in this regard. They’ve got high-caliber, quality student-athletes that really care about why they’re here and how they’re here.”

Quarterback Tim Byerly certainly qualifies as one of those. Wednesday night marked Byerly’s third straight night making calls. That included Monday night, when, with a free two-hour block of time between the end of the team dinner and the start of an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) meeting, he stopped in and made calls.

“I wasn’t on scholarship here when I got here so I kind of know the benefits and how appreciative I am of being on scholarship here. I wanted to thank as many people as I could,” said Byerly. “None of this is possible without them. I just want to let them know how appreciative we are.”

Recipients of the calls are as appreciative. Byerly recalled talking to a retired military officer, on Veterans Day, who wanted to talk Tech Football. Byerly happily obliged.

Other calls were a little more out of the ordinary. Golfer Anders Albertson, also a SAAB member, ended up getting a list that included former teammate James White.

“It was kind of weird calling a teammate who is now a booster for the program but that was fun,” said Albertson, with a laugh. “He didn’t know what was going on. He’s down in Florida playing a professional event. He was a senior when I was a freshman so he just missed this whole experience. It was a very interesting phone call.”

The whole experience has been interesting and drove home the message of Georgia Tech as family. Former baseball player Andrew Somoza (Class of ‘96) was so moved by his call on Tuesday night that he drove to campus on Wednesday night.

“That’s what’s unbelievable about Georgia Tech. It’s just a special place. It’s a family,” said Somoza, who, with his wife, also a Georgia Tech graduate, has endowed a baseball scholarship for three years — the beneficiaries have been pitcher Jonathan Roberts and, the last two years, catcher Arden Pabst. Somoza still remembers that first phone call and his swaying of emotions.

“To get that phone call, first you think it’s a cold call or they’re trying to sell you something. Then when you hear Alexander-Tharpe I’m waiting for somebody to ask me for another donation or better seats or something,” he said. “But when the student is tremendously humble about thanking me and my wife for our donation back to Georgia Tech, it’s huge. Georgia Tech is a very close-knit group. Shame on other schools for not doing this because it’s a meaningful call and people greatly enjoy getting this phone call.”

Somoza, a recipient of a scholarship two decades ago, and now chief sales officer of Voxa, an Atlanta-based messaging intelligence company, has saved every letter and voicemail he’s received from Tech student-athletes. He believes that the goodwill generated by the week can foster goodwill moving forward.

“I applaud the Alexander-Tharpe Fund and all the good people here,” said Somoza.

“Georgia Tech’s a family and what I’ve told some of these student-athletes as they’re making their calls, these people could be your employer someday. It’s never too early to start networking and really get a chance to meet some of these great people.”

Kitchens feels that getting alumni like Somoza to want to come help out means the initiative is having the desired effect on the alumni.

“I was excited more than anything because it means that they’re feeling just as much a part of this as our student-athletes are,” Kitchens said. “The fact that [Somoza] wanted to turn around and help out I think speaks volumes.”

With the success of Donor Week in year two, Kitchens believes ATF may contemplate expanding the drive to longer than a week.

“I think so,” he said. “There may be different things we could do throughout the month that we’ve kind of thrown around ideas on.

“You look at the turnout from our student-athletes, the number of donors that we’re able to reach out to, they’re kind of your easy metrics,” he added. “But I think with something like this it’s kind of feel-good, excitement that it’s the appreciation that [the student-athletes] have. You can’t really measure that and whether [donors] turn around and make a gift or not, we just want them all to know that we really do appreciate what they’re doing for us.”

Count Byerly in for next year however long it’s expanded.

“It’s as simple as a phone call and saying, ‘Thank you,’” he said. “I wish we could do it every week.”

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