After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and destroyed everything in its path, hundreds of thousands of people were left without homes, food or water. The University of Michigan soon decided it would take its title as “the leaders and best,” seriously.
With help from the men and women’s swimming and diving teams, the Youth Community Action Team of the Washtenaw County Chapter of the American Red Cross collected money for families affected by Hurricane Katrina at the gates of Michigan Stadium before Saturday’s football game.
“Being a varsity athlete, we have a special opportunity (at Michigan), and we have a lot of privileges,” senior Chris DeJong said. “And when we see something like the hurricane, we feel it’s our duty to be the leaders and the best, come out here and raise money for the hurricane victims.”
It was the Michigan who approached the Washtenaw County Chapter of the American Red Cross and proposed the idea of raising money for hurricane relief at Michigan Stadium. Jenni Kapla, the youth services coordinator at the Red Cross and one of the coordinators of the relief effort at the Big House, was thrilled to learn that the men and women’s swimming teams were going to help.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “(Helping others) is very close to my heart and this is truly inspirational.”
YCAT board member Nahal Nikoumanesh was also appreciative of the athletes assisting the cause.
“It makes us happy because we have more people on our hands,” she said. “The fact that the swimming team can help — we appreciate it very much.”
Hours before kickoff, the teams gathered together on the lawn near Gate 2 with the YCATs. After listening to directions, the group broke up and the swimmers made their ways to each gate.
A couple of the swimmers bragged about which group would collect the most money, and two YCATs jumped in jubilation at the prospect of holding the big signs at the gate.
The sea of white shirts, signs and buckets were mixed with Michigan swimming apparel at every gate of the stadium. And smiles went along with the cheerful laughing and shouting of the young teenagers and athletes as they asked every entrant to donate what he or she had for the hurricane relief. Even Olympian Michael Phelps was seen with his beaming 1,000-watt smile.
One volunteer in particular — Arlesta Roderick, a 13-year-old from Scarlett Middle School — was particularly happy to be at the stadium.
“Helping people is fun,” Arlesta said. “I like helping people because — I don’t know why, it just makes me feel good. Instead of laying around the house and watching TV I’m giving back to my community.”
For Roderick, the wrath of Hurricane Katrina hits close to home. She has relatives down in Louisiana that were still unaccounted for. But the Ann Arbor native is still positive.
“I just pray about it,” she said. “And hope that everything ends well.”
Two days later, the chapter’s executive director, Pamela Horiszny, announced at the football press conference that $40,000 had been collected at the gates.
In addition to that sum, program sales collected roughly $10,000, bringing the day’s total to approximately $50,000 — proof that Michigan is more than just the “Champions of the West.”