Bisons get into the spirit of giving back
Amid their demanding schedules, student-athletes make time to give back
As a university student-athlete, balancing schoolwork, practice, training and other life responsibilities can be challenging. Finding spare time to volunteer can further test limits but somehow the Bisons manage to get it done at an exceptionally high level.
The Bisons’ community outreach work is managed by the University of Manitoba Athletic Council (UMAC) – a body comprised of Bison student-athletes. The group plans and implements a number of activities throughout the year, including social activities, fundraisers, and also community-focused programs such as their popular Bisons Against Bullying and Bison Book Buddies.
The two programs feature the Bisons as community role models. Student-athletes visit various schools around the city and interact with school-aged kids giving anti-bullying presentations or spending one-on-one time reading with kids, helping with homework or just being an active listener and friend.
Naomi Kirshenblatt is a fifth-year swimmer and co-president of UMAC this year along with fifth-year women’s hockey forward Karissa Kirkup. The former says the group’s community service ventures are moulded around a simple principle created in 2015-16 by then co-presidents Kenny Rooney and Amir Ali.
“UMAC is all about the one-minute movement. So every hour that you spend training, you should spent at least one minute giving back. For example, the swimming team spends about 20 hours training a week, so if we could just give 20 minutes of our time to someone else, it would be a good thing.”
Individual teams also have their own initiatives. The swim team, for example, has helped to promote Teams 4 Tampons for the past two years where financial and product donations are collected to help provide feminine hygiene products to local Winnipeg women’s shelters. The women’s hockey and basketball teams have collected sporting goods to send to those less fortunate.
For the past 14 years, UMAC has coordinated efforts to send Bison athletes to volunteer at Siloam Mission over the Christmas break – a busy time of year at the shelter. Volunteers are put to work in a variety of different areas such as the kitchen (meal prep, serving), the drop-in centre or the clothing program.
“Siloam is a good place to volunteer, because everyone knows it in Winnipeg and it’s a large organization,” says Kirshenblatt. “Also it’s rather easy to set up times that work with our training and school schedules.”
Fifth-year men’s basketball guard DJ Jordan Jr. is one of the many athletes helping out at Siloam this year. His experiences volunteering touched closed to home.
“I enjoy doing stuff like this, because I grew up struggling.
One Christmas back in third grade, I only had one gift under the tree because my mom didn’t have a job that year. We went to a wish list program through the boy’s club and they bought me everything that I put on the list. I’m for a lot of programs like that, and as athletes, we’re in a position to help people positively as well.”
Siloam’s volunteer coordinator Nathan Schmidt greatly appreciates the time UMAC gives each year recognizing that without the countless amount of volunteers, the shelter wouldn’t necessarily be able to run as smoothly.
“Volunteers are a huge part of what we do,” he says.
“Without the thousands of hours that they put in each year, we wouldn’t be able to offer all of the services that we do. With all the volunteer hours that are put in each year, it’s equivalent to around 41 full-time staff members.”
For Kirshenblatt, giving back in general is second nature.
“Just being a university athlete is a lucky experience and I think giving back to our community is very important,” she says.
“When I was home last winter, I did the Bisons against Bullying presentation in my old school and it was just cool because [the students] really respect what you’re saying when you’re an athlete. It’s a platform that you don’t have for a long time, so when you do have it, it’s a good time to use it more than just to better yourself.”