Nov. 25, 2013
HARTFORD, Conn. - The UConn men’s basketball team isn’t used to coming to Hartford and participating in a win-win situation. But Monday night’s trip to St. Elizabeth House was not only a win for the residents and staff of the housing and shelter facility, but also a win for Husky players, who left with the unmatched warm feeling that can only be produced by giving back.
“We are the ones getting get the gift because we get the chance to make somebody feel special, feel happy on the holidays,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “Life is short and you have to give back. We want our players to always give back to the community because when you give back, God gives you more blessings. It’s just a great opportunity for them.”
The Huskies’ players and coaches brought dozens of bags filled with non-perishable food items with them to St. Elizabeth House, part of the Mercy Housing and Shelter program, which provides 44 single rooms for the homeless, where they can stay for two years as they address issues that caused them to be in that situation.
In the past year, Mercy Housing and Shelter’s programs served more than 5,700 individuals, providing housing, food, job training, medical services, and basic human needs.
In Hartford, the need is particularly intense, since the city’s poverty rate in 32.9 percent and its child poverty rate is 44.5 percent, the highest in Connecticut.
“We can’t just play at Gampel and in the XL Center, we have to play out in the community too,” Ollie said. “This is getting out in the community.”
The players split into groups after they arrived, some helping to prepare the evening meal for the residents, others helping to serve it, others making packages of candy to give out as prizes and to the children at St. Elizabeth. Following that, the Huskies came together to sit and mingle with the residents, talking and playing bingo.
“This means a lot to the residents here,” said Sister Pat McKeon, the executive director of Mercy Housing and Shelter. “Oh, they’re going to be real stoic about it while they’re in here, but the next UConn game … it’s going to be a whole different thing to watch the guy who served them a meal or sat at the table and talked to them.”
The Huskies will be a little different as well, better for the experience.
“This is one of the things you want to do when you have the chance to do it,” senior Shabazz Napier said. “We’re blessed to be student-athletes at a university and to come here and to help people not as fortunate as us, it’s just a great vibe to have.
“This is important. I didn’t come from a great neighborhood and a lot of my teammates didn’t, either. We appreciate the chance to give back. It’s a feeling you really can’t describe. Just a feeling that warms you body up … it puts love in your heart.”