Story by David Karas | Correspondent
Members of the men’s soccer team in Georgian Court University, Lakewood, have been leveraging their talents to deliver both on the field and in the community this season.
Since late August, some 45 members of the team have volunteered with Vincent’s Legacy, a diocese-wide ministry that collects and distributes furniture donations to families in need. Their efforts have amounted to more than 350 volunteer hours over 10 Saturdays, and nearly a dozen of the young men have volunteered at least three times.
“The soccer athletes from GCU have been a godsend to the furniture ministry,” said Margaret More, who established the ministry, the concept of which grew out of the St. Vincent de Paul conference in More’s parish of St. Rose, Belmar. “Not only are they in top physical condition due to the nature of the sport they play, but because they are also students, they ‘think’ when they are volunteering with us.”
For example, More noted that the students are especially talented when it comes to planning how to load a truck to ensure all pieces can be delivered in a single truck, and in navigating the challenges associated with bringing furniture into homes through narrow doorways.
The collaboration with GCU came about when Michael Sniffen, who works as the interim coordinator for volunteers for the ministry, was tasked with identifying volunteers to aid in their efforts.
“We are currently serving Monmouth and Ocean Counties and plan to extend our services to Burlington and Mercer Counties in the near future,” he said, “[and] it became clear to me rather quickly that we needed able-bodied people, like students, who could lift furniture.”
He contacted area schools and promptly heard back from officials at Georgian Court.
It was less than a week after that contact that a group of student-athletes showed up early on a Saturday morning to assist with loading furniture and housewares onto the ministry’s truck to be delivered. They then traveled with the truck to unload and assemble furniture in homes. Already, the young men have helped 14 families and more than 50 family members through their service, Sniffen said.
“We are so pleased that St. Vincent de Paul reached out to us here in the Georgian Court University athletics department,” said Christopher McKibben, GCU’s associate director of athletics, communications and operations. “With service representing one of our Mercy core values, there was no hesitation in our saying 'yes' to assisting this wonderful ministry.”
Devin Mangan, a 20-year-old junior on the soccer team, was interested in volunteering with the ministry when he learned about the opportunity.
“I have helped move furniture to houses of families in need and then helped pick up furniture from donators, as well,” he said. “I would describe my experience volunteering with this ministry as eye-opening, as you really start to understand how difficult some people’s lives are.”
He added that he has learned “how lucky I am to be playing the sport I love and getting an education.”
Teammate Xavier Wilson, an 18-year-old student from Runnemede, said he enjoyed bonding with his fellow volunteers, as well as those they were serving. The “experience of working with others and being a part of something bigger than myself is always rewarding.”
He has also learned something powerful from the experience.
“I have really learned how imperfect the world is,” he said. “It really opened my eyes to the different struggles people are facing, and more importantly, how lucky I am to be in a position that my family and I never went without.”
Dino Raso, the university’s head men’s soccer coach, is proud of his team and their efforts.
“I think the best thing about this is what the men are seeing when they drop of the furniture to the families who need them,” he said. “Everyone could use help at one time or another, and the thankfulness of the recipients makes it all worthwhile.”