Dec. 14, 2006
– As over 16,000 Georgia Tech students crammed for final exams, trying to remember the correct formulas for chemical reactions and adding the finishing touches on final papers, at least one Georgia Tech student took a break from studying for a little shopping.
Not for himself, or for his family and friends, but for more than 75 kids in a local foster home that he would be visiting just three days later.
Georgia Tech baseball shortstop Michael Fisher had the pleasure of picking up more than $900 in Target gift-cards to go along with 75 toys and gifts that he and other Georgia Tech student-athletes had collected during the semester’s three Toy Drives earlier in the fall.
A month earlier, the junior from Nashville, Tenn. approached Rob Skinner, Director of the Total Person Program at Georgia Tech, as well as the advisor for the Georgia Tech Student-Athlete Advisory Board (GT SAAB), of which Fisher is a first-year member, and mentioned his interest in getting involved in the local foster home which a friend, Joshua Harrelson, had mentioned.
“Joshua called me up one day and asked if I’d be interested in helping out with this local foster home,” began Fisher. “And when he came over to show me the information about Hillside, I told him that since I was on the Georgia Tech Student-Athlete Advisory Board, I could propose the idea of helping out the kids to the entire board.
“I knew that we were trying to find a project that didn’t completely involve physical labor, like our normal large event of Team BUZZ. So that and the idea of having a positive influence on the lives of children are the two things that made me really want to take action with the project.”
At this time, the Yellow Jacket student-athletes were in the midst of a month-long toy drive to help benefit the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program. The Michael Isenhour Toy Drive, in its sixth year of existence in 2006, had become a student-athlete favorite, and this season the group decided to extend it past the typical football collection to both men’s and women’s basketball games. At the same time, the athletes wanted to see that the work they had put in collecting the toys would go to a noble cause, and Skinner felt the foster home cause was a worthy organization to give the extra funds and toys that the student-athletes had collected.
Fisher was in charge, however, and Skinner left the details up to him.
He took a visit to the Hillside Foster Care Home in late November and sat down with one of the directors to discuss ways that he and other student-athletes could become involved with the program over the holidays. In return, Fisher learned some of the background on the foster home and the children, which led him to return to Skinner’s office saying that it was a group he thought the Georgia Tech Student-Athlete Advisory Board should work with. At the next GT SAAB meeting, he presented the idea to the board regarding using the Toy Drive donations. The board agreed at that time that they wanted to make a trip over before they left for the holidays, deciding to do so during their finals week.
“Somewhere during that time, our athletes were beginning to see the fruits of their collection were going to do some good in this community,” said Skinner.
The student-athletes collected more than $6,000 and 1,500 toys during the Toy Drive, with more than $5000 and 1,400 toys going to the United States Marines’ Toys for Tots program, but they wanted to do something special for this local organization.
So Tuesday evening, Fisher and 12 other athletes piled into cars headed to the foster home, met with a pair of the directors for the program, who informed them of the procedures that the kids go through once they arrive on the campus, and then had the chance to visit each one of the houses on the Hillside campus.
“At first, I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Fisher. “I knew that this would be an awesome opportunity if we could begin a long-lasting relationship between Georgia Tech and Hillside, but this really was an eye-opening experience.”
The Georgia Tech student-athletes were greeted by Hillside residents that were enamored by the fact that collegiate athletes would visit with them. The Yellow Jacket contingent met each child and had them talk about their favorite sports and which ones they were best at. In return, the athletes introduced themselves and the sports they play at Georgia Tech before answering questions about playing in college and what commitments it takes to do so.
As Fisher and the rest of the student-athletes handed out gift cards to each child before leaving the houses, they began asking when the student-athletes would return for another visit … and not necessarily for more gifts, but to just hang out. Several even challenged the Tech group to a game of Newcomb, a favorite among the Hillside group.
“Seeing them react to us … was amazing,” said Fisher. “Some of the kids seemed nervous taking the gift cards from us, but others were very excited. Either way, to be able to see those kids smile and knowing that we were helping them was already a gift in itself. As we left each dorm they wanted to know when we were coming back.”
Another gift for Fisher came as he drove the student-athletes back to campus.
“As we’re leaving Hillside, the other athletes turned to me, asking when they could come back. I think that’s what I was hoping for the most.”
Although his season gets underway in January, Fisher, for one, won’t let the opportunity pass him by.
“I, along with the others, cannot wait to continue helping out at Hillside.”