April 14, 2014
SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. - Following a six-month period in which bonds were forged through regular correspondence, the Seton Hall Athletics Pen Pal Program culminated with a campus visit on Friday afternoon as 29 participating student-athletes hosted sixth and seventh graders from the St. Francis Xavier School in Newark.
The Pen Pal Program was introduced by SHU Athletics Hall of Famer and former Director of Academic Support Services Robin Cunningham in 1994 and is now in its 20th year of existence. 2013-14 marks the second consecutive year that the Pirates have partnered with St. Francis Xavier for this initiative and the 29 student-athletes who were selected following the application process collectively represented 11 of Seton Hall's 14 varsity squads while ranging in class year from freshmen to juniors.
"The Pen Pal Program is always among our most popular with the student-athletes," said Roberto Sasso, Assistant Athletic Director/Student-Athlete Development & Leadership who directs the Helping Athletes Learn to be Leaders (H.A.L.L.) Program. "St. Francis Xavier is an ideal partner for us in that our institutions share similar core values. Our student-athletes are also provided the opportunity to make an impact on a child from the surrounding area and develop a relationship that can last beyond the term of the program. The latter is something they have really embraced throughout this process and I think we saw that on Friday with how much mutual excitement there was."
Over the course of the program; the selected student-athletes and students from St. Francis Xavier exchanged correspondence every two weeks. Friday's event included a meet-and-greet inside the newly renovated Richie Regan Field House where the pen pals participated in a variety of athletic activities, campus tours and a group lunch that was supplied by the Academic Support staff.
"Hosting our pen pals was a great experience," said Tessa Fournier, a freshman member of the volleyball team. "Throughout the year, we talked about our backgrounds and our families and even though we were just meeting, we kind of just picked up those conversations. Seeing how they interacted with us was a reminder that we can make an impact and that there are people who look to us as role models, so we need to be conscious of that. I had a lot of fun with it and I would definitely like to be a part of the program again next year."
"It was great to finally be able to put faces to names," added sophomore Katie Adams, a nursing major and member of the women's swimming & diving squad. "I hope to go into pediatrics one day so working with kids is definitely something I have a passion for. Any chance we have to give back is something we should take advantage of. I enjoyed being someone my pen pal could talk to throughout the year and seeing how happy they were just to get to come play, and interact with us for a few hours made the whole experience a very rewarding one."