NATCHITOCHES – As they were involved with final exams and preparing to head home for the holidays, Northwestern State student-athletes took time to make a difference in the lives of local children and their families while continuing NSU Athletics’ remarkable community service tradition.
Led by their Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members representing all 14 NCAA Division I sports, NSU competitors contributed time and energy to help the Natchitoches Area Jaycees donate nearly $19,000 worth of toys to over 600 children involved with nearly 300 families in and around Natchitoches.
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“It was great being able to give back to a community that supports NSU athletics tremendously, as well as help those who are less fortunate than us,” said track and field competitor David Mortiz, his team’s SAAC representative.
The effort Dec. 8-10 included dozens of NSU student-athletes who spent more than 12 hours helping solicit donations and sort toys, working with the Natchitoches Area Jaycees, who help coordinate the MASH (Make A Smile Happen) initiative.
“MASH is a very special event and we are lucky that every year we are given the opportunity to partner with this incredible organization that enables us to help kids’ Christmas dreams become a reality,” said Natalie Jaeger, a Lady Demon volleyball standout and the SAAC president. “The Natchitoches community supports our athletic teams in so many ways, and MASH is just one small way that we hope to give back to a community that has given so much. Our student-athletes are all very invested in this cause and to see them continually put in the work to help make this event a success is very heartwarming.”
About $2,000 in cash donations were specifically generated by the student-athletes. The NSU softball team led all NSU sports, with baseball close behind, said Betsy Nohavitza, NSU Athletics’ academic coordinator.
The MASH event is a longstanding partnership between the Jaycees and Elite Broadcasting of Natchitoches, which launched the initiative in 1996, and is staged in the parking lot of the local Walmart Super Store, a high traffic area for area consumers.
Student-athletes from all of NSU’s 14 sports were involved, along with coaches and staff members, said Nohavitza.
“We are so proud and lucky to have a department full of student-athletes who are devoted to selfless service,” she said. “The Natchitoches community shows nothing but love and support to NSU Athletics year-round and our athletes are always grateful and happy to give back whenever possible. We had every team involved in collecting donations for the toy drive, showing how important of a cause this is to the entire department.”
For several years, NSU Athletics has provided over 5,000 hours of community service annually assisting local, area, national and international causes. In 2015, Northwestern State won the inaugural #SouthlandStrong Community Service Award presented to the Southland Conference member whose student-athletes compile the most service hours, with NSU competitors more than doubling the second-place total.
The event also served as Northwestern State’s effort in the Southland Conference’s “Southland Gives Back” community service initiative, annually commemorated around the end of each year.