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#STINGDAILY: I Scream, We Scream...

July 26, 2013

Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –

Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impact.

Little things like a smile, a laugh, maybe even just a bowl of ice cream.

Last night a group of around 40 Georgia Tech athletes — some 32 freshmen as well as several members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (S.A.A.B.) — brought all of those things to Gatewood Ronald McDonald House and helped turn a random Wednesday night in late July into a special occasion for its residents.

“It’s great to see Georgia Tech student-athletes here at Ronald McDonald House Charities giving back to the community and being involved with an organization that’s trying to take care of families in their time of need,” said Rich DeAugustinis, Vice President of Global Strategy, Planning and Business Development for Coca-Cola, McDonald’s Division and a 1992 graduate of Georgia Tech. “I’m very proud to see our athletes over here representing Georgia Tech and giving back.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to get Georgia Tech more involved in RMHC and vice versa,” he added. “It’s just extraordinary to get these student-athletes over here and have what I’m hoping is a new beginning of an opportunity for Georgia Tech to be involved in Ronald McDonald House Charities.”

The visit was the brainchild of Tech starting quarterback Vad Lee, whose first exposure to Ronald McDonald House Charities came a few weeks ago while at his summer internship at Barton Executive Search, during a speech by Chris Marinac, a member of the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) board. Lee then did what he does best, take the ball and run with it.

“[Marinac] just mentioned something for about two minutes,” he recalled. “He was talking to us about the corporate world and the business world and instantly my focus went to Ronald McDonald House and how we could connect with them and how it would be special if Georgia Tech really connected with them. So I reached out to him. Within two weeks I met with them and they were ready to get something going.”

“I have a passion for kids,” Lee added, sighting his mother’s work aiding autistic children. “I don’t know what I want to do after football but I know it has something to do with kids, whether it be a coach, a teacher, just dealing with kids.”

Georgia Tech Director of Total Person Support Services Leah Thomas knows well about Lee’s passion and his willingness to take the initiative.

“He’s got a heart for service,” said Thomas. “He’ll text me on a Saturday afternoon randomly, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea. Here’s what I’m thinking,’ and it’s always related to service, community service and how we can get involved in the community and give back. It’s never about him and it’s never about sports. It’s all about, ‘What can we do as an Athletic Department?'”

They did plenty. Wednesday night was the fourth and final meeting for the freshmen’s summer leadership training as part of the Total Person Program. It turned out to be a heart-warming display of loving support for the residents at Gatewood, kids that are undergoing medical treatment and their families.

Inside a conference room, Tech athletes took shifts sitting around a table, equipped with Georgia Tech tee-shirts, pocket football schedules and posters of the 2013 Cheerleading squad to sign. They chatted, shook hands, and took pictures with residents of the house that wandered in.

Down the hall, another group of athletes took turns dishing out bowls of ice cream to the eager kids.

“It means so much,” said Caroline Mealor, Volunteer Services Manager for RMHC, Atlanta. “Athletes, to everyone, but especially these kids, are superstars. So to have them be in the House, get their signature, meet them and then see them on TV or at games, that’s really important. No matter what a child’s interest they’ll have an athlete here that they can interact with.”

“Just to watch it all, watch them interact, the kids and the freshmen and the upperclassmen. It’s special,” added Thomas. “Watching these freshmen, who have only been here for two months this summer step in, as far as these kids are concerned, they are the superstars.”

Most parents agreed when it came to bestowing “superstar” status upon the Yellow Jackets.

“I think I was more starstruck than anybody else,” said Louis Holmes of Memphis, Tenn., whose 14-year-old daughter, Melody, is making progress as she rehabs at Scottish Rite from a brain shear injury suffered in a car accident. “This is special because you don’t get an opportunity to see a lot of college football players except on TV. For them to come out here, this is just a wonderful time for us.”

Most of the athletes, however, felt the true superstars were the kids they met.

“I think they’re very brave to go through what they do and for them to have such a positive attitude and be living so happily even with the hardships they’re going through,” said volleyball player Rebecca Martin. “I think that’s much braver than anything I’ve ever done.”

“[They’re] unbelievable,” said football player Donovan Wilson. “I’m so happy we’re here because we’re making a difference. I don’t know how it would feel to be like this so I just want to do everything I can to make them happy and make them have a good day. My dad always tells me you have to give back for things that are given to you and this is what we’re trying to do. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

The night held something for everyone. There was good cheer and camaraderie for the kids and their families — not to mention a nice selection of ice cream and toppings (courtesy of Thomas — while the players got a lesson in how powerful their presence can be in the community as well as some inspiration.

“[Tonight] inspires me to want to do better at Georgia Tech so eventually one day maybe I can be a volunteer here,” said sophomore track athlete and secretary of S.A.A.B., Morgan Jackson. “It inspires me to want to go back to my team and bring them here with me to do other volunteer activities.”

There promises to be plenty more opportunities like Wednesday night’s on the horizon, as Lee recently was appointed to S.A.A.B. as the Community Service Representative. Thomas feels that can only be a positive.

“A lot of our service goes under the radar,” said Thomas. “But I would say you will be hearing more about it because we have someone as big time as him involved.”

“I am incredibly impressed with his leadership,” added S.A.A.B. President Shayla Bivins. “I’m very excited for him and everything that is in store for him because I know he’ll do great things.”

Lee thoroughly enjoyed the experience with Ronald McDonald House and is eager to expand Georgia Tech’s community outreach.

“I want to reach out into our community and have a stronger community,” he said. “Just being involved in this is phenomenal.

“We have a lot of stuff set up,” he added. “We want to work with the Salvation Army. This is basically my job to get everybody here and to do more events in the community.”

For more information on Ronald McDonald House Charities Atlanta, visit www.armhc.org.

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