Lehigh’s freshmen student-athletes hear all about the Adopt-A-Family program from their teammates, but it’s impossible to truly understand what it means until they go through the process.
“Experiencing tonight definitely makes you want to participate even more,” said freshman Autumn Ryan of women’s lacrosse. “I’m definitely going to make time next year to be involved. Until you see your families open the gifts, you really don’t get the full experience.”
Last Thursday, the Mountain Hawks’ 18th Annual Adopt-A-Family came to a close with the final event at Broughal Middle School in Bethlehem. The night featured all the teams meeting their families, giving them gifts and simply enjoying each other’s company.
“The event is honestly very hard to put into words,” said Alicia Creazzo, Community School Coordinator at Broughal Middle School. “It is a magical event for our families. There are many of our families here from Broughal, families from Donegan, Fountain Hill and Calypso who don’t have the means to provide for their children, sometimes on a daily basis, but especially for the holidays. The student-athletes stepping up makes a huge impact for them. It gives them some relief and takes the weight off of their shoulders.
“The families don’t have to stress out about being able to purchase for their families for Christmas because Lehigh is filling that gap and filing that void for them,” she continued.
Adopt-A-Family is a special kind of community service.
“As a freshman, you tend to relate things as far as community service projects back to what you did in high school,” said senior Buck Schwab of the baseball team, who co-chaired Adopt-A-Family along with women’s soccer senior Tori Pantaleo. “This is much different. This is everybody at a Division I school in a big-time community getting together for something so selfless and so powerful around this time of year that it makes you realize how special the people around you are and how much the Bethlehem community looks up to us. Giving back is the least we could do for them.”
12/12/2016 18th Annual Adopt-A-Family, 12/8/16 18th Annual Adopt-A-Family, 12/8/16
One of the reasons Adopt-A-Family is special is because it’s extremely engaging. It’s a process that takes a lot of hard work, planning and teamwork. Student-athletes take part in something larger than themselves.
“What’s special is all the hard work that all different people put into this,” said Schwab. “Every single team was represented at wrapping day. Every single team was represented at shopping day. It’s all of us together. That feeling of togetherness is exactly what we carried to the final night, which was like the capstone.”
The student-athletes fundraised for their families, took the time to individually pick out gifts, wrap them and then present them to their families. On Thursday, Broughal was buzzing with tears of joy, laughter and plenty of smiles.
“It’s really nice to see all the different teams interacting with their families,” said Ryan. “There was even a dance off. Everyone is super excited when they open their gifts. You see the kids’ and even the parents’ faces light up. I even think our mom was getting teary eyed. To actually see their reactions, it really takes you back and makes you appreciate the things you have.”
Some youngsters even took out their gifts and started playing them with the Lehigh student-athletes.
“It’s indescribable the feeling you get when you see how excited these families are to be able to receive something that they might not be able to provide on their own,” said Schwab. “For us to do that as a student-athlete community, it’s not only very powerful for representing ourselves, but also the Bethlehem community. It makes us feel like we’re part of something much, much bigger.”
“We very often have parents crying,” said Creazzo. “It’s tears of joy because Lehigh student-athletes are lifting a weight off their shoulders by being here and providing for them. Music is playing and there’s also singing (by Derek Knott of the football team), which isn’t something you often think of when you think of student-athletes at Lehigh. They come in and put on a great performance for us.”
After her first Adopt-A-Family, sophomore Lindsay Alvarez entered this year with a much different perspective.
“Last year, I thought this was an event where people came and didn’t really interact with the families,” said Alvarez. “This year, I understood what the event is about – everybody gets to know the families, everybody eats with the families, we watch them open their gifts and we really talk to them and get to know them.”
The event brings out the best in the Mountain Hawks. Everyone has a hand, with several putting in countless hours and going above and beyond, embracing and engaging in the process of helping the community. There’s a motivating factor behind the student-athletes getting involved.
“For me, the program is important because every year, I’ve always experienced a great holiday,” said Alvarez. “All around the world, I think everybody should get to experience a holiday with their family and everybody should get gifts.”
In the end, the Adopt-A-Family program helped more than 50 local families have a holiday season to remember. It’s an event that has remained very steady because it has been so successful. However, everyone is constantly looking to improve, push the envelope and make Adopt-A-Family better and better every year. So far, so go.
“I hope that 20 years down the road, when I come back, that it’s even bigger and better than ever,” said Schwab. “I hope it continues to grow. I hope they find new ways to approach it. I hope they do different things.
“It should never stop. We should continually try to progress an event like this. Being a part of it for my short four years here has been nothing but the greatest.”