Ivy Athletes Charity Team unifies student-athletes for a cause

Freshman Victoria Hewitt was among the women's track and field team members who worked at "Princeton Preview" in April to earn money for Community House as part of the Ivy Athletes Charity Team. Here, she helped prospective students tote their suitcases. The student-athletes say working at such events is fun and enables them to rally together as a team and a community for a good cause. Photos: Brian Wilson

From the June 2, 2008, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

Sophomore Christine Vidmar and her track and field teammates spent a few hours during "Princeton Preview" in April working for the University as special greeters for the thousands of prospective freshmen that blanketed campus.

At the same time, they raised money for a worthy cause as part of the Ivy Athletes Charity Team (IACT).

Vidmar welcomed students as they arrived with their families, gave them details on their stay and helped them check in. "It made them feel welcome and comfortable," she said.

Her "wages" went to IACT, a new organization through which all of Princeton's athletic teams work one-time campus jobs to raise money for a local project — an on-campus summer camp organized by Community House.

Founded in 2007 by then-seniors Freddy Flaxman and Luke Owings, IACT organizers work with the captains to provide an opportunity for each team to donate its time to raise approximately $500 annually. The men's squash team, for example, reached this goal by cleaning up Jadwin Gymnasium after a basketball game, while the women's soccer team helped the grounds crew rake leaves around campus last fall. "It requires very small commitments from the teams yet produces a huge result," Flaxman said.

The money raised by each team is pooled by IACT and donated to Community House, which connects University volunteers with disadvantaged youth in the community. The summer camp serves economically disadvantaged youth, ages 10-14, in the Princeton and Trenton areas, providing them the academic and technical skills they need in order to get ahead by the time they return to school in the fall.

Sophomore Liz Costello, also a member of the team, served as a greeter at "Princeton Preview," welcoming prospective students as they arrived on campus.

"Over the summer, people from low-income families do not have the funds to send their kids to camp," said Marjorie Young, director of Community House. "We can provide quality enrichment for the kids in the community. The kids will continue to learn, so when they go back in September, they won't forget the knowledge base that they learned at school." The camp, which brings 40 children to Princeton's campus each summer, is now in its eighth year.

IACT began in the fall of 2006, when Owings and Flaxman, returning to campus as seniors, decided that they wanted to leave a lasting impression on Princeton upon their graduation.

"Given our experiences, we knew athletes on campus were great about giving back to the community," Flaxman said. "We wanted to channel this enthusiasm, do work for a good cause and showcase how Princeton team members were not only model collegiate athletes but also model Princeton students."

With these goals in mind, Flaxman and Owings pioneered the IACT project, meeting with every varsity captain and several members of the athletic department. As Owings and Flaxman talked to more people about their idea, IACT began to take shape.

"It was such an experience to work with my best friends to start something in the student-athlete community as part of the larger Princeton community," Owings said. "Seeing that there was something that could be done better and then going out and doing it was an absolutely incredible experience."

And since Flaxman and Owings have graduated, IACT has become something much larger — a sustainable project in its first steps toward becoming a Princeton tradition. Although the project is still growing, it has broad goals. While Princeton's athletic teams are working to fund the summer camp for a second consecutive year, IACT leaders are looking for either a local business or a Princeton alumnus to match the amount raised by the teams, thereby making Princeton's commitment to the local camp even more substantial. "We're getting the word out about what we're doing," said senior Meagan Cowher, IACT's current president.

And part of spreading the word about IACT happens on the job, as it did for the women's track and field team at another event last fall. The team worked at the coat-check for the Aspire fundraising campaign's kickoff, where they were able to interact with alumni.

"We could talk about where the money was going, so people gave more knowing what we were doing it for," said Emma Harper, co-captain of the team. She and her teammates raised roughly $1,000 for their work. 

"Knowing where the money is going gave me more of a drive to do it," Harper said. "It made it seem like less of a job." Vidmar agreed that working an event with her teammates helped make it more fun, and allowed the team to come together. "I grew closer with my team doing something off the track," she said.

The purpose of the program is to build service into the athletes' busy schedules and unify the students toward the improvement of the University. By working together as teams and as an overall community, IACT allows the group not only to set aggressive goals but, as in the case of Community House, actually reach out and accomplish them.

"It's our goal to mobilize the varsity athletes for a positive cause," said Cowher, "and make sure we are giving back and are aware of our fortunate situation being students at a University like this one."

By empowering all of its teams to participate in paid jobs and donating the money to a local charity, IACT has found a system that works at Princeton. Their long-term mission, however, is to extend this concept to every institution in the Ivy League.

"We have to prove that it works at Princeton first," Flaxman said. "Once we lock it down at Princeton for a few years, I don't see why it can't happen at every Ivy League university."

Although IACT is still in its formative stage, Princeton's student-athletes have already greatly benefited the community, according to Young.

"They're engaging Princeton and the students on campus," she said. "They're taking a lead and being models in reducing the minority achievement gap. They're really showing the University community that they do care and that they want to make a difference. They're not just talking about it. They're doing something about it."