Communication and Marketing

Despite pandemic, Alma College athletes come together for communities

Scots give back in a number of ways since play suspended

By Tim Rath

The COVID-19 pandemic may have taken Alma Scots away from competition on the field of play, but it could not keep athletes and coaches too distanced from their communities.

Tutoring middle-school students over webcam, volunteering at local food banks and writing letters to seniors in nursing homes are just a few of the ways Scots continued to show their support for the greater Alma community in the weeks and months since play was suspended to contain the spread of coronavirus.

“Serving generously is a core value of Alma College and one that our athletics department has fully embraced as a key part of our identity. This commitment to service is seen throughout our athletic programs and is the core of who we are as Scots,” Athletic Director Sarah Dehring said.

Feeding the hungry

Brehanna Ramos and Sara Parker, two assistant coaches at Alma College, have attempted to set an example for athletes. Both have donated their time to the Community Cafe at First Presbyterian Church in Alma, a weekly event where people in need can socialize and enjoy a sit-down meal prepared by volunteers.

“I think it’s really important to give back to the community. That’s a large part of Alma College athletics in general. We’re all willing to help in any way we can, even during this pandemic. With (students) back at home now, it’s more important than ever,” said Parker, an assistant coach for the Scots volleyball team.

As part of their volunteer effort, Ramos and Parker package and distribute food that has been donated by other sources to people who attend the Community Cafe. Normally the cafe is similar to a restaurant, but due to the pandemic, has been altered to serve people curbside.

There, they receive a full meal: one recent offering included chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, bread, beans and dessert. People can take as many meals as they need to meet the needs of their household.

Sara Parker, an assistant coach on the volleyball team, is pictured volunteering at the Community... Sara Parker, an assistant coach on the volleyball team, is pictured volunteering at the Community Cafe at First Presbyterian Church in Alma.The coaches agree that they have enjoyed their time volunteering and intend to keep on long after Alma College students move back to campus.

“One of the coolest things for me is seeing so many people come together,” said Ramos, an assistant cheer and STUNT coach at Alma College. “When Sara and I went for the first time, we saw several people wearing Alma College shirts. Since then, we’ve talked to those people, who we had never spoken with before, and gotten to know them. Those kind of connections will continue even when this pandemic is over.”

Parker added, “We’re thinking about how to get our teams involved in this, too, when they get back to campus.”

Communicating with isolated people

Ava Frederickson, a first-year student from Alto, came to Alma College with the intent to play lacrosse and contribute to the community in a big way.

She hasn’t been able to play lacrosse, but still feels fulfilled in her college choice because of the spirit of philanthropy on campus.

Frederickson, whose mother serves as an auditor for a company that works with nursing homes throughout Michigan, said she quickly became aware that senior citizens were particularly vulnerable to coronavirus — and thus were being kept isolated from other populations. This was especially true in major cities like Detroit, one of the epicenters of COVID-19 outbreak nationwide.

So, Frederickson took it upon herself to start writing letters to seniors living at Omni Continuing Care, a nursing home on Detroit’s east side, to help ease their loneliness — and perhaps make a new friend.

“I just hope that if they’re not as happy as they could be, that this would bring a little joy, especially if they have nobody else to speak with,” Frederickson said. “And when this is all over, I hope we can come visit.”

Frederickson, who has never had a pen pal and rarely wrote letters before the pandemic, wrote about 20 letters that went to strangers at Omni. In the letters, she describes who she is, where she goes to college and what sports she plays. She asks the recipients what they like to do and tells them she hopes they are staying happy and healthy.

A highlight of the campaign, she said, was receiving a letter back from one woman, who was “very appreciative.”

“She said it was really good to hear from someone and she seemed to really like me,” Frederickson said. “I’ll definitely write her back.”

Frederickson said while she was disappointed not to be able to play lacrosse in the spring, it gave her a greater appreciation for the sport in the long run. She is no less excited to be a Scot, she said — if anything, the pandemic reminded her of why she chose to attend Alma College in the first place.

“On the lacrosse team we do so much volunteering for the community, because we think it’s important to give back,” Frederickson said. “Any community is built around people who volunteer. That’s what makes a community better. That’s a huge reason I chose to attend Alma in the first place, because of that spirit.”

Tutoring students

Frederickson’s lacrosse teammate, sophomore Alyssa Gall, planned to spend her spring term job shadowing a teacher in a high school classroom.

But when K-12 schools closed across the state, Gall, an English and education major, suddenly found herself with a lot of free time on her hands. She went back to her hometown of Richmond and observed her siblings, who are in high school and middle school, learning remotely, and said she felt “startled.”

“Schools were providing students with weekly homework assignments with the goal of learning new content as planned,” Gall said. “However, without the teacher’s guidance, it is often hard for students to focus and grasp new content as well as for parents to comprehend or find time to help their students.”

Gall took it upon herself to connect with a group of eighth-graders and high school students to help with homework assignments and new content over email, phone or virtual face-and-face contact. Some days, she would help English students revise their essays or properly write a narrative story, while on others she would help math students with equations.

The experience was beneficial not only for the students, but also for Gall. She forced herself to use new technology and explain it to others. She also learned to adapt her own teaching style to different audiences, based on subject matter and age of the student.

“Schools and teachers are trying their hardest to find ways to help students continue to learn even outside of the classroom, but they are often faced with the difficulties of lack of technology and the ability to build those connections and relationships with students in the classroom,” Gall said. “Therefore, I find it important to help out where teachers may not be able to, such as further explaining certain concepts or providing students with face-to-face help.

“Just because students aren’t in school, doesn’t mean they should stop learning,” she added.

Story published on September 11, 2020