Michigan legends give back to students

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By Steve Zoski, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 13, 2013

The Heisman Pose, the untied shoelaces and the bowtie — these are the respective trademarks of Michigan football icons Desmond Howard, Denard Robinson and Dhani Jones. Friday night, all three men were gathered in the same room to show support for a cause they said was as enduring as anything they have ever done on the football field: making it possible for more students to come to the University.

At the third annual Appreciate + Reciprocate Benefit Dinner supporting the LSA Student Emergency Aid Fund, guests mingled and dined as they bid on auction items that included a signed Michigan football, a homemade Michigan quilt and handbag, a bowtie from Jones’ bowtie line and tennis practice sessions with the Michigan tennis coach.

Appreciate + Reciprocate — a student organization comprised of than 70 LSA scholarship recipients — fundraises for the LSA Emergency Scholarship Fund, which assists students with sudden, unexpected financial crises at home, such as a parent’s sudden illness or loss of employment.

LSA sophomore Preeta Gupta, A+R’s vice president of community service, said the scholarship is for anyone in danger of dropping out. She said, as of 12:03 a.m., an estimated $13,000 was raised, almost tripling last year’s total of $5,000.

In a question-and-answer session that lasted over an hour, English Prof. Anne Curzan asked Howard, Robinson and Jones about their days as Michigan football players, their inspirations and the importance of the emergency fund.

Howard started off the evening on a light note that he is addicted to Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

“I would drive past twelve Dunkin’ Donuts to get to one Krispy Kreme doughnuts,” Howard said.

Robinson — who surprised guests by attending the event after it was reported he would be absent due to an unexpected NFL event — said he had a similar confession to make: he’s addicted to candy.

“Any kind of candy, I love. My mom had a problem with me eating candy, so I like sneaking it now,” Robinson said.

Howard said over time, he has really learned the importance of giving one’s time to others.

“I think one thing that we take for granted when we’re younger is time and the time that people give to us,” Howard said. “I think when I was younger I just took for granted the amount of time that maybe coaches, people of that ilk, spent with me, and now I value it much more."

Curzan later asked the three panelists how they decided on the form of their large-scale philanthropic work.

Howard said his desire to help children came from his younger brother and his mother’s in-home daycare.

“Coach Schembechler always had us go to Mott Children’s Hospital and volunteer, and even when we were going to the Rose Bowl, we would spend Christmas day at the children’s hospital before we got on the plane,” Howard said.

“I wish I had the money like Stephen M. Ross, so I really could give back to the University,” Howard joked. “There are different ways to give back though, without writing the check, and you can connect the dots and whether it’s Denard, whether it’s Dhani, whether it’s Charles Woodson — you can connect the dots and financially we’ve helped to raise a whole lot of money for a whole lot of causes at the University of Michigan.”

Jones, who runs his own charity named The Bowtie Cause, echoed Howard, noting that his time at the University taught him about the need to always give back.

“Getting involved with Mott Children's Hospital really set the groundwork for a lot of student athletes that are here at the University, something that Lloyd Carr definitely instilled within us,” Jones said. “I think from a University perspective, understanding that it is a greater good, and it’s something that’s not about you, it’s something that’s bigger than yourself.”

Robinson also discussed the fulfillment he gets from helping others, adding that his path from growing up in a low-income family to becoming a star quarterback for Michigan has taught him to give back.

“Like breathing, it’s something that you expect to do all the time,” Robinson said. “I know I grew up in a family that was unfortunate, so anytime that I have a chance to give back to anybody that’s not fortunate, to give back to anybody I can talk to or be around, I want to make their day. I want to make somebody’s day everyday.”

Jones said A+R represents a way to be bigger than yourself.

“I think that we are all in this room because we believe that it’s about Michigan,” Jones said. “I think regardless of whatever position or whatever place you’ve been in this University, it’s about the school. It’s about the difference that our University makes throughout the entire world, our entire community.”

LSA seniors Meredith Westerlund, the President of A + R, and Jasmine Mae Poler-Pawlicki, a recipient of the LSA Emergency Scholarship, also spoke at the event.

Once the dinner plates had been cleared, Jones went over to the large handmade Michigan quilt that he had won in the event’s auction and rolled it up to stuff in its accompanying quilted Michigan handbag. Guests lined up around all three Michigan football alumni, posing with the men for pictures and offering up their permanent markers, footballs and postcards in the hopes of receiving an autograph.

—Follow Steve Zoski on Twitter at @z0ski.