by James Sica
The University of Missouri Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving teams has been named a College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Community Service Team. The Tigers earned the recognition for their work with a tutoring program at the Great Circle campus in Columbia, Missouri.
Beginning in the fall of 2015, the Mizzou Swimming & Diving Team began working with the Great Circle, an organization in Columbia that provides behavioral health services for children and families in need. Volunteering 24 weeks over two semesters, the Tiger Swimming & Diving Team had an average of 10 student-athletes providing an hour of individualized tutoring for children aged 8 to 17 every Wednesday night. Many of the children the student-athletes worked with have gaps in education, have experienced trauma in the past, or experience learning or mental health challenges.
The impact of the Tigers involvement was apparent from the outset. Working with only a handful of youth at the beginning of the fall semester, the group quickly grew to roughly 20 children receiving individualized tutoring each week. Each student-athlete was paired with a child to tutor, and over the course of the program not only provided encouragement and help related to their academics, but also helped to develop trusting and stable relationships with their children. The relationship piece is key for many of the children on the Great Circle campus, as many have been moved through multiple foster homes or have experienced severe violations of trust in the past.
Susan Reeves, the Regional Director for Great Circle, explained the impact that the Mizzou athletes had on their paired children: “We greatly value the tremendous investments of the coaches and team. Because of them, our youth are gaining needed social and academic skills. They also are learning that there are safe adults in the world, and that people in the community truly do care about them...They are demonstrating an increased understanding that they really aren’t that different from other kids, and are becoming empowered, through meaningful interactions with the athletes, to reach for brighter futures.”
Speaking of her team’s involvement with the program, Assistant Coach Kristin Pritchett noted how the relationship is by no means one-sided. While acknowledging the impact her student-athletes had on the children at Great Circle, she also emphasized the perspective the Tigers have gained from working with the organization. “[Our work] showed the individuals on our team how giving their time and skills can change someone’s life for the better, starting at the local level in Columbia, Missouri,” she said. “As a team, we learned how much impact we can have as a group in the community. We have had so much positive feedback and reception from the tutoring program, and it has inspired our team to continue to be involved and serve those around us on a regular basis.”
One athlete was able to provide a glimpse of her experience working with the organization, explaining how her relationship with one of the participants, who receives treatment for ADHD and is dyslexia, developed: "The first two sessions this spring, we completed 3-5 basic addition problems over the course of the entire hour. I left each night feeling discouraged at our lack of progress and about the future of someone like Nate. But I kept coming back each week, and soon, Nate began to request working with me, and we started to complete more problems and worksheets. 10 problems, then half a worksheet, then a whole worksheet, and the last two tutor sessions, we completed his entire homework packet, which he said he had never done. It drew tears to my eyes as he said goodbye for the summer, and he asked if we'd be back next fall again."
The majority of the student’s that the Mizzou Swimming & Diving Team worked with are in state foster care, a population that has a significantly higher risk for dropping out of high school. While the work of the Tigers student-athletes may not be readily quantifiable just yet, the long-term impact these student-athletes made is certainly going to be significant.
About the Great Circle Campus:
Great Circle is an agency that provides a unique spectrum of behavioral health services to children and families. The Great Circle campus houses children from ages 6-21 who have been removed from their homes because of extremely dysfunctional and abusive home environments. For more information on the organization, please visit their website.