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Class Reflections: Service-Learning Transforms UT Students Views of Community Impact

Service-learning students get loose before class this  spring

Service-learning students get loose before class this spring

Throughout the spring 2015 semester, CSPS co-director Ashleigh Huffman—Dr. Ash, for short—sent students from her Service-Learning: Sport & Community class throughout greater Knoxville to work with some of our closest partners. After preparing for two months through in-class exercises, readings and discussion-based lectures, 21 students served as after-school volunteers with Emerald Youth Foundation, Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge, Girls on the Run of Greater Knoxville, and the YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Center, getting involved with everything from group exercises and discussion sessions, to leading basketball and soccer practices.

At the end of the semester, the students had an opportunity to reflect on the experience and how they felt service-learning impacted the community.

Emerald Youth Foundation

Emerald Youth Collage

“I am very happy to have taken the service-learning class this year. With other classes at UT I just memorize, or present information that is generally unimportant for my future career. It is not practical and can be very tedious and not enjoyable. The service-learning class forced me to come out and lead a group and step out of what I’m normally comfortable doing. I had responsibility beyond what is normal because what I learn in the classroom directly applies to what I do in the field. I am very happy that UT offers this course, as it has been very beneficial in increasing my confidence.”

– Aidan Williams

“The greatest lesson that I learned during this course is that sports can be used as a positive communication platform and have such an impact on people that it can entirely change their lives. I personally learned that there is hope in any of us; as dark as it might look, with a bit of guidance and positive power everything is possible. When we take obstacles as challenges and believe in the positive, positive outcomes will follow.”

– Filip Dzafic

“The greatest lesson I learned is definitely the power of showing up. I wasn’t sure the impact I would be able to have on these girls simply by seeing them a few times a week and teaching them soccer, but I was so wrong. The way they took to me and became some of my favorite friends speaks of the power in showing up and being consistent. They trust me because I am there when I tell them I will be there, and that has done wonders for my relationships with them. One of the lessons I learned about myself is that I can change the life of a child when I put time into it. I went in thinking I was going to do this for class and be done with it. Now, I have developed relationships with the girls and met their parents and I love to be around them.”

– Sydney Carden

“The teaching style in this class was great for me. I think I liked it a lot because it was very hands-on. Once we would learn something in class, we were given the opportunity to go into the community and really apply what we learned. At first, I will admit, it was challenging because I was not used to it. Once I got a grasp of the class goals I was extremely satisfied with it. This really made me stretch in a way because it wouldn’t let me stay in my shell. I had to go out and be creative and contribute to the class, which has not only helped me in a school setting, but in life as well.”

– Ethan Stanley

Girls. Inc of Oak Ridge

Girls Inc

“Service-learning is a different type of community service. This service-learning class has pushed me outside my comfort zone, and I am thankful for that. I have developed a more outgoing personality, become more flexible, and learned to not sweat the small stuff. I have gained more confidence to speak my mind. I am more open to change, new experiences and new people.”

– Callie Brimer

“The impact that this class had on me was extremely great! I really grew in all aspects: emotionally, socially, spiritually, mentally. I enjoyed going to my site every week, but I also enjoyed the days that we met in class. The in-class discussions and reflective writings truly helped me emotionally. It was therapeutically stimulating for me. This class was different than others I’ve taken here at UT because the learning pertained to real life situations.”

– Lauren Santana

“This class helped me develop better communication skills by learning the way each individual understands and responds to the best. I also worked on my problem solving. Dealing with younger girls always helps with problem solving. One girl might not agree with the next, so being able to work through the issue and find a solution was a skill that I acquired. And I improved my responsibility by knowing when I needed to leave in order to be on time, what supplies I needed to get in order to make each day valuable and a lesson learned. Having a set lesson plan to make everything go more smoothly really helped me, as well as kept the girls attentive and interested.”

– Molly McDonald

Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run

“I feel very satisfied with what I achieved this semester. At the beginning, I kind of thought, ‘What did I get myself into?!’ but then after going to my first Girls on the Run practice, I felt so refreshed and proud of myself. It is unfortunate for me to say that if it were not for this class, I would have never taken the time to participate in something like this. I feel very lucky and thankful that I did not have a problem connecting with the girls on my team and having them become comfortable talking to me and listening to me. Personally and professionally I accomplished my goals of giving back to the community, learning how to connect with younger children, and also how to be a good role model for people who look up to me.

– Leeda Roshanfar

“From volunteering with Girl’s on the Run, I learned quite a bit about elementary school aged kids. I especially learned about those who have broken families and an unstable life. The girls were all desperate for a listening ear and a soundboard to process even the simplest things going on in their lives. Even though I am not especially skilled with kids this age, I found that if I pushed myself a little that I could communicate with them and even enjoy my time with them. As the semester progressed I feel as if I learned how to relate to these girls and made relationships with them. Going forward, I will try to be attentive to kids this age that really need someone to confide in. We all need that.”

– Emily Card

“I learned a lot from this class; how to be a friend, how to be a leader, and how sports can really change a child’s life in particular. It is different from other classes because you really get to build on yourself and with your classmates as well as with your site. This class really helped me grow as a person. It gives more meaning to your accomplishments when you can watch someone else achieve their goals rather than just doing a good job on an exam. It’s given me a whole different perspective on what achievement really means.”

– Avery Andersen

“Being in college, you always have to worry about yourself, but this class gave me something else to care about. This class is different because it forces you out of your comfort zone to accomplish something you may have been hesitant about in the beginning. For example, I was hesitant about Girls on the Run because I have never felt like a strong runner. But, to the girls, none of that mattered. The 5K ended up being my favorite part and I would have never even signed up for a 5K if it were not for that program.”

– Kaylin Merz

YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Center


“This service-learning class taught me a lot about myself and exposed me to new things. I was able to fully understand the importance of sports and how it has a major impact on a student’s life. I was able to put myself in an inner-city environment and learn from the students there. It opened my eyes to their lifestyle to understand their behaviors. This class is different from any other class I’ve taken at UT because I actually got the experience being in the Leader Role. I was the one being the mentor this time instead of being the mentee.”

– Kiera Crutcher

“I feel like this class addressed skills I can actually apply to my life. As fun as calculus is, I’m not sure I will ever use it again compared to learning how to interact with others and leadership skills that I feel I have learned in this class. We also actually applied what we learned in real life settings after practicing on one another.”

– Charlsey Bush

“This class had a huge impact on me. It brought several laughs, a few uncomfortable situations, new friends, and many memories. I will always remember my experience at the Phyllis Wheatley Center. This class allowed for so much more involvement and interaction within the classroom and in the community, unlike most of my classes where it is the lecture type setting where only the teacher provides information.”

– Chandler Mitchell

#Brazentina Photo Summary: Part 2, Rosario

A public mural painted by El Desafio staff and volunteers. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

A public mural painted by El Desafio staff and volunteers. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

For the final five days of our South America trip, the CSPS team visited with Global Sports Mentoring Program alumna Luz Amuchastegui (class of 2013) in her hometown of Rosario, Argentina.

Luz and her staff at El Desafío Foundation work to transform their neighborhood, which is home to two of the oldest and most dangerous shantytowns in the city, La Lata and Villa Moreno, through innovate sports and educational workshops that keep kids engaged and on a path toward success.

Here’s a summary of our activities during the five days we spent in Rosario.

Day 1: Field and Classroom Sessions

After recuperating from the overnight flight from Sao Paulo, Luz gathered the team from our hotel and brought us to the El Desafio headquarters, a medium-sized warehouse facility that has been repainted and arranged to host more than 160 kids with multiple programs happening concurrently.

Many of the program participants, volunteers and “young leaders” — program graduates who have been given opportunities to work part-time with the organization, and who also serve as role models for younger participants — were there to welcome us. We spent the day  breaking the ice and building trust with them through some of the classic games in Drs. Hillyer’s and Huffman’s arsenal, and talking about what El Desafio has done for their lives.


A trio of participants and volunteers at El Desafio laugh during an icebeaker called “Mingle, Mingle.” Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“This is my city, and I don’t think it’s fair for people to live the way they do in these shantytowns. We’re here to try and create a different future for the kids from these neighborhoods by working together and giving them the tools to fix their own community.” Luz Amuchastegui, GSMP 2013

During these sessions, we met a trio of best friends — Andy, Damian and Marco — who have been together at El Desafio for over a year, and who have all taken on roles as soccer coaches, providing mentorship and leadership to another generation of El Desafio participants. We also met Agustina, a 17-year-old who is coaching the Mini Gigantes (“little giants”) soccer team of 12-13 year-olds, becoming one of very few young women coaching boys soccer in the city.


Dr. Hillyer listens as a volunteer shares her drawing during a classroom exercise. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“In Argentina, the economics have been so difficult in the past years, and people have lost a lot of hope. Then, in the middle of all of this, there’s El Desafio, which is this kind of a shining jewel. I’m so impressed by the fact they are absolutely committed to providing these kids the best experience possible, not just any experience.” Joan Coraggio, mentor and group communications director for Saatchi LA

Day 2: Mini-Library and Volunteer Training at Urquiza Park

On Saturday morning, the CSPS team and mentors left for Urquiza Park to provide support for El Desafio staff as they installed their sixth Mini-Library, a major project undertaken to provide communal books and reading space for Rosario’s residents.


Maria de los Angeles and Sofi Cuadra keep the Mini-Library steady. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“I really think the mini-library project has been a success. We have one man who called us after he saw one of our installations near his home. He started to take care of it and makes sure it’s always stocked and that it is looked after.”  Sofi Cuadra, international relations manager for El Desafio

After helping mix cement and ensuring the Mini-Library was solidly in place, Drs. Hillyer and Huffman jumped into the volunteer training, led by El Desafio executive director Mario Raimondi. The exercises, focused on team building and responsible living, concluded with a dance session, where Dr. Huffman taught everyone a personalized dance version of Rocky Top.

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The entire team celebrates a successful day with some dancing. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“Ultimately, the more educated young children are, the less likely they are to get into trouble as teens, which then multiples the problems they’ll have in their adult life. They’re not just having an after-school program, they are changing people’s lives. They are making their world better.” John Lisko, mentor and executive communications director for Saatchi LA

Day 4: First Day of After-School Programming

On Monday, El Desafio welcomed back kids for the first day of after-school programming. The CSPS team got to be there to witness the energy and passion of the staff, volunteers and participants during the soccer, dance, field hockey and art classes.

Despite the heat, the kids in the outdoor classes were excited to get to a small, turf field four blocks from the warehouse, where all practices for team sports are held. First up were the Mini Gigantes, then the older boys soccer teams, and finally the girls field hockey players. A former field hockey goalie herself, Luz even jumped in to share some expertise.


Luz Amuchastegui, who was once a promising field hockey goalie, shares her expertise with the girls. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“My life is my passion. What I do for my job is my passion. I am passionate about getting up every morning and being able to change other people’s lives.” Luz Amuchastegui, GSMP 2013

After the one-hour practices, the players returned to El Desafio with their coaches for a snack and time to hang out before leaving for the day. When the CSPS team arrived back at the warehouse, the dance instructor was just finishing up her class. Drs. Hillyer and Huffman couldn’t resist jumping in to share their own moves with the group.


Drs. Hillyer and Huffman jump in to lead a song during the dance class. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“Luz is someone I look to as a role model and an example for women in Rosario. She’s married, but she’s not at home washing dishes and cleaning the house. She’s here with us everyday trying to win back this community.” Georgina, volunteer and field hockey coach

Day 5: Second Day of After-School Programming

Before leaving for Buenos Aires, the CSPS team and mentors spent our final hours in Rosario at El Desafio for its second-day of programming. In order for kids to take multiple classes, the organization spreads its programming out throughout the week so different workshops are available every day.

On this occasion, the team experienced El Desafio’s inaugural skateboarding class, where 10 kids stepped on skateboards for the first time and practiced with instructors Bautista and Andy at a nearby basketball court, long abandoned to disuse and recently reclaimed by the organization. Skateboarding was followed by a music class, with the sound of beating drums and laughter filling El Desafio’s warehouse before snack time.


Luz Amuchastegui and some of the skateboarding class participants. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“Luz was just such a positive influence to us within the agency; just a really inspiring individual. It’s unreal that we’ve now had the opportunity to come and see what she has created, to see it live and in person, and actually in action. It’s a phenomenal, once in a lifetime opportunity.” Gwen Conley, mentor and group media director for Saatchi LA

As the afternoon drew to a close, it was time to say our goodbyes to the volunteers, participants and staff at El Desafio — never a painless task when befriending people with such strong commitment and love for doing their part to create new, improved Rosario.

One of the more touching final moments of the trip happened when Agustina, who received a U.S. women’s national soccer team jersey earlier in the week from Dr. Huffman for her role coaching boys soccer, wrote out and shared a short speech about how meaningful the presence of the CSPS team and GSMP mentors was for her.

Agustina began attending El Desafio in early 2014 after Luz spoke at her school. Last year, she signed up for and finished cooking and mentoring classes. And, although she has played soccer since the age of 5, she never considered being a coach until she got the push from Luz and Mario.

At 17 years old, Agustina is committed to securing a bright future for herself, and, at the same time, understands she is a role model for other girls in her community.

At the very core, that is what El Desafio is slowly building: a generation of kids like Agustina, Andy, Damian and Marco who will transform La Lata and Villa Moreno, and bring back hope to many who lost it a long time ago.


Dr. Hillyer hugs Agustina, a participant and soccer coach for one of El Desafio’s boys soccer teams. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

“Our first practice, I felt really nervous, emotional and happy, too. From the moment Luz and Mario asked me to become a coach, I knew they believed in me. They’ve given me their full support. And I want to pay back their confidence.” Agustina, participant and Mini Gigantes boys soccer coach

An “Unforgettable” Experience for Multi-Nation Basketball Visitors at WBHOF

Basketball players from Lithuania during icebreakers. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

Basketball players from Lithuania during icebreakers. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

Unforgettable. Informative. Fun.

Three of the many words used by the 2015 Multi-Nation Basketball Sports Visitors to describe their experience at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame during their second day in Knoxville.

The 20 girls, representing Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and Georgia as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative, were welcomed at the WBHOF by President Dana Hart and her staff, and taken on an extensive tour of the WBHOF facilities. The group also participated in a panel discussion with two-time U.S. Olympic swimmer Kate Ziegler, and leadership and Title IX workshops with Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society.

“The most important thing for us as the Hall of Fame is to share the history and story of women’s basketball,” said Hart, who has welcomed 115 women and girls from 23 countries to the WBHOF through this initiative. “Just as these girls may be trailblazers in their countries, taking the sport back and growing it, it’s important for them to see the history of the game in the U.S. and internationally from 1892 to the present.”

After finishing the tour, many of the girls shared their hope to see women’s basketball grow in their countries. During a workshop drawing exercise on the topic of ambition, Tiko Chichinadze of Georgia drew herself winning a WNBA championship, while Lina Putriute of Lithuania depicted herself and teammates celebrating on the court together after hitting a game-winning shot. Many of the other girls also drew themselves wearing medals and hoisting trophies.

However, when asked to name their own female basketball heroes, few were able to name any, even though they spoke knowledgeably about past and present NBA superstars like Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose.

One of the Polish Sports Visitors during the drawing exercise. Photo credits: Jaron Johns

One of the Polish Sports Visitors during the drawing exercise. Photo credits: Jaron Johns

Donatas Slanina, a coach and chaperone for the Lithuanian group, said the reason for this is simple: there is a good chance many of the girls, aged 14-17, have never actually seen a professional women’s basketball game.

“There is no female basketball on television in our countries,” said Slanina, a former Lithuania men’s national team player and Olympian. “They’ll show the men’s leagues and on satellite you can watch NBA and NCAA, but not the WNBA or any other female leagues. That is why it is also hard for our girls to see themselves getting to that level because they don’t physically see it on screen.”

Ziegler, who competed in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics and is training at UT for Rio 2016, reminded the girls that despite these obstacles and others, they have the power to persevere and create real change in their societies through basketball.

“There are no guarantees in sport,” she said. “You must keep pushing forward and face your adversities, find your empowerment and embrace new opportunities.”

U.S. Olympic swimmer Kate Ziegler with the group. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

U.S. Olympic swimmer Kate Ziegler with the group. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

After the WBHOF and two days of visits and workshops at UT and other local sites, the girls travel to Tampa, Florida for the 2015 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Hart, who will be with the group again at the tournament, said the best part of the group’s visit for her was watching the girls realize that they were at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

“They walked in the door and saw the statue in the center of the rotunda and their eyes lit up. On the tour, they were looking and learning and they got so excited about what the game represents to a lot of different people.”

And, from what the girls had to say afterward, it’s an experience that will last long in their memories.

The entire group with their coaches outside the WBHOF. Photo credit: Jaron Johns

The entire group with their coaches outside the WBHOF. Photo credit: Jaron Johns