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UNC Asheville teams serve the community

Basketball players and other community members serve dinner for the United Way’s Homework Diner held at Asheville Middle School. Photo by UNC Asheville Athletics

Peyton Rodgers 
News Staff Writer
[email protected] 
The cross country and basketball team represented UNC Asheville at the United Way Homework Diner by taking on different roles to serve the community and students.
Asheville Middle School hosts this service every Tuesday for students ranging from kindergarten to high school. The volunteers serve meals and tutor students by helping with homework and showing parents how to help with homework.
The Homework Diner also host events such as ‘Raising a Child in a Digital Age’ and conversations between the parents and faculty of the school.
“We do the Homework Diner for the community and to support families and it’s free for any family so all of our families are invited,” said April Dockery, principal at Asheville Middle School.
The Homework Diner serves many purposes. One of those purposes is to allow the students to engage with their teachers outside of the classroom. This allows the students to see them as regular people.
Dockery said it not only helps the students with their academics since they are able to ask them questions in a more comfortable environment, but the parents feel engaged and supported.
Blanton Gillespie, senior chemistry neuroscience student and member of the cross country and track and field team, volunteered at the Homework Diner by tutoring students in math.
Gillespie said he enjoys working with the students. Although some of the students struggle academically, others just need the confidence to perform to their best ability.
“It is very rewarding to be able to make a difference in either situation,” Gillespie said.
Dockery said she appreciates having the student athletes volunteer because it helps the middle school students see the importance of being a successful student.
The kids gave positive responses to seeing the student athletes help at their school.
“They could just talk to them about what it’s like to be in college and being a student athlete, the time commitment and all the work it took, the traveling and the awesome gear they get,” Dockery said.
Dockery said it’s more impactful when a student athlete, who was recently in middle and high school, talks to the students about how to be successful.
“We firmly believe that middle school kids from a strong middle school make a stronger city, so anytime we can have people come in and help, it’s very valuable,” Dockery said.
Dockery compares being a student athlete to working in public education.
“To work as a team you have to show up, you have to take care of your body and you have to learn plays. All of the pieces that make good student athletes make good educators,” Dockery said.
Dockery hopes the student athletes and middle school students learn how much they mean to their surrounding community.
“They may have only made Asheville a home for four years, but I hope they feel loved and valued and appreciated while they were here with us,” Dockery said.
Gillespie said his team does a good job at staying involved in the community. They help with the Woodfin Elementary physical education class, give tours to younger students that come to UNCA’s campus and also any services they do on their personal time.
By being an athlete, Gillespie said he had a way to connect with the middle school football players while tutoring.
“I talked to them about sports in college which really seemed to help in connecting with them,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie said he hopes to be an inspiration to the students he worked with, even to those that are not involved in sports.
“Just having someone come in to be a supporting example can really make a difference in how kids see themselves and their possibilities for the future,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie started his involvement with Buncombe Adverse Childhood Experience  Learning Collaborative through a summer internship, which is how he initially heard of the community service opportunity.
He said he was excited about having the opportunity to work with the students and enjoyed the change in pace.
Gillespie values his time spent with the community and hopes to continue his services in the future as a physician.
“The more I can talk to families and kids from all sorts of backgrounds, the more I can be of true service to a community in the future,” Gillespie said.
Jesse Norman, head coach for cross country and track and field team, said community service helps open the team’s eyes when they wish they had more.
“I think it helps kind of get everyone out of their silo. Show that there are other individuals out there that maybe don’t have it as well as they do,” Norman said.
The cross country and track and field teams are currently working on becoming a strong community. With this year’s large amounts of freshmen joining the team, they seek to create a leadership mindset within the players.
By having a community, Norman said it creates a sense of belonging. He hopes the team realizes the importance of their representation for the school.
“I think it kind of helps them to think about their situations and what they’re doing,” Norman said.
Norman said the goal through community service is to push the teammates out of their comfort zone and to help people who you know have less than you.
Although he was not present while the teams were doing their services, he said the middle schoolers can become inspired by seeing the teams serve their community.
Jacob Todd, ecology student and cross country and track and field runner, did not participate in the community service, but supports showing the community people care.
“We still embrace the community as if we have always lived here,” Todd said.
The team runs through the community on a daily basis.
Todd said when the middle schoolers see the athletes perform community service, they become role models by showing them the importance of serving your community.
UNCA appreciates the support it receives from the community. The athletes especially, appreciate when the community comes out to watch them perform.
UNCA athletes get involved with the community to give back to the people who support them and their sport. It gives the athletes the motivation to continue performing to their best ability.
“It means a lot to us athletes when the community supports us,” Todd said.

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