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    'Cats Give Back: Northwestern Staff Spend a Day in Community Service

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    Northwestern's Department of Athletics staff took a day out of the office Friday, June 8, to volunteer at five different locations around the Evanston and Skokie communities. While the Wildcat student-athletes spend many hours of their free time volunteering across the Chicagoland area, rare is the opportunity for our staff to shut down and make similar contributions. More than 100 NU staff gave their time Friday morning -- find out more about each place we went after the jump!

    The Talking Farm


    A group of 15 Wildcats traveled to The Talking Farm in Skokie, a nonprofit urban farm that aims to support the production and appreciation of locally grown food. The Talking Farm recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the signing of its Use Agreement with the Skokie Park District, which granted the farm over two acres of clean land -- free of residual toxins, a rarity in such a historically industrial area -- on which it can begin cultivating crops.

    The Talking Farm just recently constructed 10 wooden frames in which it plans to grow various crops, each frame measuring approximately 15 feet in length, six feet across and one foot high. Our simple task for the day was to transport topsoil from where it sat in a five-foot high pile to each of the 10 wooden frames, filling them to the brim so vegetables would have a healthy environment in which to grow.

    Quite frankly, all 15 gentlemen in attendance got their exercise for the day and, more likely, the weekend. A crew of five or six took on the responsibility of shoveling topsoil into the wheelbarrows and six more did their duty of pushing the wheelbarrows across the less-than-desirable woodchip surface. Shon Morris and Jack Griffin of NU's development staff joined associate athletic trainer Lanny Bradford in helping to empty wheelbarrows and smooth dirt in each of the 10 beds.

    For a group of city dwellers, most of whom have small yards at home or none at all to care for, it was an invigorating experience to spend the morning outdoors working together on manual labor. Our liaison at The Talking Farm reported that the 10 beds we filled in our two-plus hours of work would be receiving plants and vegetables as soon as this weekend, which truly makes our efforts that much more rewarding. Make a visit to The Talking Farm (3701 Howard Street) for yourself, or look for their produce on your restaurant plate in the months to come!

    Thanks again to the Talking Farm for having us!

    Rice Child and Family Center in Evanston


    The Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Child + Family Center in Evanston hosted a large group of volunteers. Located at 1101 Washington Street, the Center provides residential care and treatment to children and youth ages six to 15 with the greatest needs, including those diagnosed with severe emotional, behavioral and mental health problems. These children often have significant impairment in functioning within their families, schools and the community. The primary goal of the Rice Center is to provide children with services designed to diagnose and treat behavioral challenges and to facilitate stable transitions to birth, foster or adoptive families.


    Northwestern Athletics' group at the Center went with the intention of spending the morning painting their gymnasium, however ongoing construction nixed that idea. Instead the Wildcats split into three different groups. The first group meticulously manicured (re: weeded) the garden plots of the residents, who began cultivating vegetables three years ago while learning about healthy eating. Another group swept up the parking lot while a third combed the grounds to pick up any errant rubbish.


    After leaving the entire Rice facility spotless on the outside, the Wildcats headed indoors to play a game of kickball with the residents. While our volunteers waited for the kids to finish their breakfast and morning chores, a very competitive game of intra-volunteer kickball broke out, with one nameless athletic communications staffer being touched up for probably close to 30 runs before the residents arrived to save the day.


    Kickball was a blast. The kids jumped right into our game and quickly took advantage of their "home court" advantage. There was a lot of clapping and cheering and generally good teamwork, leaving our volunteers with a positive feeling and a great impression of the work the Rice Child + Family Center does.


    City of Evanston Ecology Center


    One group of 'Cats got their hands dirty and their thumbs green at the City of Evanston Ecology Center. The group was charged with clearing an overgrown prairie so that new plant life could flourish in the space.



    The Prairie Patch of Evanston is situated just west of the International Friendship Garden at the Ecology Center and was planted and is still maintained today by groups of volunteers. Unfortunately it had been a while since anyone tended to the space so it was up to a group of Wildcats to get the job done on Friday.


    The group on site Friday was made up of nearly 30 members of the Northwestern athletics and recreation staff including several of the department's head coaches. Among those who rolled up their sleeves were fencing's Laurie Schiller, golf's Emily Fletcher and Pat Goss, cross country's April Likhite and wrestling's Drew Pariano. Additional gardeners included members of the business office, men's and women's basketball staffs, ticket office and many, many others.


    Aided by the leader M.J., the team was responsible for clearing various forms of plant life including garlic mustard and buckthorn, two items that tend to stunt the development of the prairie, all while keeping an eye out for the dreaded poison ivy plant. One plant that the group was careful not to remove was a beautiful mulberry, which is a good source of nutrition for the monarch butterflies that frequent the patch.


    After clearing the prairie, uprooting several stubborn trees, raking loose debris and bagging it all up for pickup, the project was complete. The work combined teamwork and a little sweat and in the end it was just another way that the 'Cats were able to give back!


    Family Focus of Evanston


    Family Focus of Evanston offers comprehensive family support services for those in need and Northwestern coaches and staffers donated their time on Friday by helping transform the organization's garden. The garden features a variety of plants and vegetables and the NU crew pitched in by loading and spreading a Sisyphean pile of mulch. The purpose of the garden is to teach families how to grow their own healthy foods that are full of vitamins and nutrients.


    By the end of the day, the Wildcat volunteers had put a major dent into the mulch pile and distributed it throughout the garden in order to help produce rich soil and protect it from the sun. In turn, the soil helps produce fresh crops for everyone to enjoy.


    Mather Pavilion


    Nearly 20 members of the Northwestern University Department of Athletics and Recreation visited Mather Pavilion, a comfortable residential nursing community, to spread the purple and assist residents during an active morning.


    Upon arrival, the Wildcat staff members were given a brief tour of the facility and educated on the history of the Mather LifeWays mission. Following the tutorial, the NU crew was ushered to the residential floors to invite folks down to the pavilion to begin activities.


    Following a meet and greet everyone moved outside to the courtyard where temperatures were rising. Sunglasses and sombreros were distributed and the NU personnel teamed up with the Mather staff in a series of exercises, highlighted by the giant parachute drill that brought everyone together.


    The group then retreated from the heat into the pavilion for fruit, water and lemonade. After a brief respite the morning's feature took place - NU staff teaching the fight song! The rendition may have been mediocre, but there was nothing average about this visit to one of Evanston's gems. The residents and staff at Mather are impressive and their character and enthusiasm provided a memorable morning for the Northwestern Wildcats in attendance. 


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