To celebrate this time of giving and sharing, Fairfield University Athletics looks back on a year of community service by its student-athletes. Eleven stories will be featured through the end of the month, showcasing the student-athletes commitment to Service for Others.
Sophomore freestyler Kevin Brandbergh
held the Hot Wheels car in his hand and smiled. For some reason, he felt compelled to bring the car with him, a lingering childhood memory that still stands firmly in his memory.
It was one of many gifts that the Fairfield University men's and women's swimming and diving teams would box and prepare for distribution through Al's Angels, a local organization that reaches out to children and families battling cancer or rare blood diseases as well as helps those in need from natural disasters or severe financial hardship.
Although Brandbergh will not meet the child who will receive that Hot Wheels car, he knows that hopes that it will bring that child the same joy that those toys gave him during his younger days.
"I brought a Hot Wheels car because it reminded of childhood," Brandbergh said. "I hope that the car will help the recipient create his or her own memories when he or she opens it."
Many teams are involved with Al's Angels, helping the organization with fund raisers and events throughout the year. On this particular day, the men's and women's swimming and diving teams were front and center, packing boxes with food and toys for the upcoming holiday season. Junior Betsy Powers
was part of the contingent, and like Brandbergh, was wading through a flood of memories as she placed items in the boxes.
"I remember the joy of opening a toy on Christmas morning," Powers said. "Being able to help bring that same joy to a child that I had when I was a child is a great feeling. It's a great feeling knowing that we are able to help so many people with such a small act of kindness. There are so many families in need during the Holiday season and I feel very fortunate that we are able to make this time of year a little bit easier and happier for them."
The "Al" in Al's Angels is Al DiGuido who has been serving his community in so many different ways. After serving as a board member for numerous charities, his hands-on approach and desire to make a difference in his community provides the inspiration for many who sign on with the organization.
"The most memorable part of working with Al's Angels is seeing what a big heart Al has," Powers said. "He puts so much of his time into helping thousands of families over the holidays. It is very rewarding to be part of his efforts."
The teams filled two vans with boxes that overflowed with toys and food. And as each box was loaded into its vehicle, Brandbergh realized just what he and his fellow student-athletes were accomplishing on this particular day.
"Seeing the vast number of boxes made me realize the number of families that are in need which really left an impression on me," Brandbergh said. "It is concerning to see how many boxes there are but it is a hopeful feeling to think that we are making a difference."
Making a difference is part of the Jesuit ideal as all Fairfield University student-athletes make a commitment to service to others. And it's that desire to serve that stands at the heart of why the men's and women's swimming and diving teams came together for this cause.
"I participate in service projects to give back to the community," Powers said. "We are given so much and are so fortunate as students at Fairfield. Spending a couple of hours to help others and make their lives a little easier is something I think everyone should find the time to do."
The magic of Christmas comes in many forms. On this day, that magic came by filling boxes one Hot Wheels car at a time.