Dec. 18, 2009
MALIBU, Calif. - On a wet, windy Saturday morning fourteen Pepperdine athletes took a break from their end of semester studies to bring the spirit of Christmas to a family of five, in North Hollywood.
The trip was the culmination of weeks of planning and organization by the Pepperdine Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). The program, Adopt-A-Family is a community service event that was created this year to involve all of the Pepperdine athletic teams, individual athletes, coaches and staff. The family was assigned by Social Services, who felt this particular family could most benefit from what the student-athletes had to offer.
Maria is a 25-year-old single mother of four children under the age of six: Edgar, age six; Mariana, age four; Marisol, age three and Ricardo, three months. The young mother would not be able to provide for the children this Christmas without the help of the Adopt-A-Family program.
Each team was assigned Christmas presents for a specific family member. Additionally, each team's SAAC representative collected donations from all their teammates. The Waves athletic staff and coaches also got involved by contributing donations of their own. A member from every team went shopping to buy clothes and a toy for each of the children. All four children received numerous wrapped presents comprised of a complete outfit including jeans, shirts, jackets, and shoes. Maria was also given an outfit consisting of a sweater coat, jeans and costume jewelry.
The student-athletes, dressed in their team sweats, gathered in front of Firestone Fieldhouse on the stormy Saturday morning and loaded the cars with gifts, toys and boxes of canned food, beans, pasta, rice, snacks, baby food, juices and water.
Once they reached their destination, the large group clad in blue and orange headed to Maria's apartment which was located in the back of a house occupied by another family. Her home was quite small, yet very well kept. The children greeted the athletes with wide eyes and smiles. Until the Waves arrived, there was no sign of Christmas in Maria's little home.
As the athletes brought in the presents and the boxes of food, the smiles grew bigger. Associate Athletic Director Roxanne Levenson and Krista Friedman, SAAC co-President, handed Maria an envelope with a Christmas card and a substantial gift certificate to a local grocery store. Maria was extremely grateful and thanked everyone through her sister-in-law. Her eyes were sparkling.
A few moments of awkwardness ensued as there was a language barrier between the mostly English speaking student-athletes and the Spanish speaking family. Maria's sister-in-law Leidy acted as an interpreter. Pepperdine men's tennis player Alex Llompart of Puerto Rico jumped right in and started speaking in his native language to the children and the mother. Kim Hill and Krista Friedman women's volleyball student-athletes sat on the couch with Marisol and Mariana on their laps. Meanwhile, in the little kitchen Daniel Moss and Stuart Keplar (men's tennis) played with the other children at the table including cousins of the family.
The Waves brought a big platter of sandwiches and Maria made coffee for all her guests.
The women's soccer team baked dozens of Christmas cookies for the family. Tyler Jaynes (men's volleyball), Matt Brown (men's water polo), Kelli Branning (women's volleyball), Brittney Clark (women's volleyball), Hugh Clarke (men's tennis), Shane Mason (men's golf), Bridgette Walker (women's track), Andrew Widmar (men's golf) and Martine de Gannes (women's golf) passed the treats around the room.
When it was time to leave there were hugs and holiday greetings exchanged. The apartment looked festive and the presents were piled high on the coffee table. Boxes of food covered the countertops.
"Thank you. Thank you so much for all of this," said Maria through her sister-in-law. "We are so grateful."
"Merry Christmas," the group responded.
The student-athletes walked out of the apartment with smiles as big as Maria's.