Elon student-athletes spread ‘Christmas Cheer’ to Alamance County families

Elon's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee raised more than $5,000 to spread a bit of Christmas cheer to children and their families in Alamance County.

With the long-awaited holiday season now here, Elon student-athletes are doing their part to spread joy to local families following a year full of challenges.

The Elon Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) continued the Athletic Department’s long-standing tradition of partnering with local nonprofit Christmas Cheer of Alamance County to provide area children with Christmas presents. Each year Christmas Cheer offers the opportunity to spread the spirit of Christmas to underprivileged children and the elderly in Alamance County, and Elon’s student-athletes say nothing could have stopped them from participating this year.

“We get involved a lot in the community and try to do a lot of things with our teams,” said Olivia Kraebel ’21, a midfielder on Elon’s women’s soccer team and chair of the SAAC Civic Life Committee. “But Christmas Cheer is something that every athlete at Elon is really excited about and gets involved in.”

Student-athletes personally bought Christmas gifts for each of the children the group sponsored this year. (photo by Andrew Stafford)

Members from all 17 of Elon’s varsity athletics teams collected donations over a two-week period in the fall and raised nearly $5,500 for the initiative, a record for SAAC. Student-athletes used the funds to personally buy Christmas presents for 15 children from five families in Elon and nearby Burlington.

“It’s so important to be able to give back this year, especially around Christmas,” said SAAC President Peter Wentzel ’21, a goalkeeper on the men’s soccer team. “What I really like about Christmas Cheer is that we have the opportunity to personally buy the gifts. It’s a personal connection that we try to establish with these local families.”

Because of the record-setting fundraiser, SAAC was able to donate additional funds to Christmas Cheer to help other children and elderly in Alamance County, along with purchasing presents for the 15 children the group originally sponsored.

The successful campaign was no simple task, as COVID-19 required student-athletes to alter their approach to collecting donations. Instead of asking friends, family and fellow students to donate face to face, student-athletes turned to Instagram and other forms of social media to carry out their mission. It was the group’s flexibility and creativity that allowed it to surpass its goal and bring joy to so many children in a time when it’s needed most.

“It’s just inspiring,” said Andrew Stafford, SAAC advisor and student services and Elon Experiences coordinator for Elon Athletics. “The fact that they pour so much effort and energy into this when their identities as athletes have been affected this fall, not being able to play their sports as normal, I’m just amazed by the work they’ve done.”

Stafford and Sarah Williams, assistant director for the Kernodle Center for Civic Life, are managing part of an NCAA grant that involves increasing student-athlete involvement in service, providing education around social issues and community engagement, and expanding involvement in the Service Experiential Learning Requirement (ELR). SAAC’s Christmas Cheer project is one of the many initiatives to come from the partnership between Elon Athletics and the Kernodle Center, and organizers are excited to see its impact in the surrounding community.

Men’s Soccer goalkeeper Peter Wentzel (center) shopping for Christmas presents as a part of SAAC’s 2019 Christmas Cheer initiative. (photo by Andrew Stafford)

“I am grateful, after this challenging year and the devastating impact we have seen from COVID-19, that this tradition was able to continue,” Williams said. “I am so proud of the student-athletes and how they came together to step up at the end of this semester to not only meet the goal of sponsoring 15 children, but to blow it out of the water. It was a wonderfully uplifting way for our student-athletes to end this year on a high note where their actions had really clear, positive impact to help others.”

As all of Elon’s student-athletes prepare to resume athletic competitions in the spring, they are proud to have come together during such a difficult time to make a difference in their neighbors’ lives.

“It’s that culture that we have here at Elon,” Kraebel said. “If you have the opportunity to help someone, then you do it. We’re so fortunate to be able to get involved in our community.”

Student-athletes wishing to volunteer in Elon and surrounding communities or learn more about the Service ELR can reach out to Andrew Stafford at astafford5@elon.edu.