The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 28, 2010

Person of the Week

UPJ athletes team up to help community

Frank Sojak
The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — Student athletes at Pitt-Johnstown run, slide, kick and throw to bring recognition to their school.

They also do so off the field by rolling up their sleeves and working to make the community a better place.

Since the start of classes in September, athletes from the university’s 12 sports have been working with a Johnstown nonprofit organization that helps families and the community.

Through a partnership with the Alternative Community Resource Program, the athletes, along with youths enrolled in ACRP programs, have installed 700 smoke detectors in homes in Johnstown; rejuvenated a baseball field in Tanneryville; built a fire pit at a park in Sidman; and decorated Kernville at Halloween and Christmas. Each team takes turns working on a project with the youths.

Athletes also have been conducting physical education classes at the ACRP’s St. Michael School in Brownstown since September.

Next month, on Earth Day, athletes from all the teams will join the youths to clean up a couple of neighborhoods in Johnstown.

The athletes have been involved in helping the community in a variety of ways for years, but this is the first year they have joined forces with ACRP, said Abby Gearhart, a senior, who as president of the Student Athletes Advisory Committee leads athletes’ efforts.

One of the biggest projects of the athletes through the years has been supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an initiative of the NCAA’s Division II, of which Pitt-Johnstown belongs, said Gearhart, captain of the women’s volleyball team.

A benefit basketball game with students versus faculty and staff is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the university’s Sports Center to raise money for Make-A-Wish, said Gearhart, who is majoring in secondary mathematic education and applied mathematics.

“I love it,” Gearhart said about helping the community. “The ACRP in particular has been huge because we actually get to see the effects of our work.”

She said their reward is helping to make the community a better place and interacting with the youths, who have been working to improve the community through projects on their own for years.

“We can relate to the hardships that they have experienced but at the same time, be role models and give them something to work for,” she said.

The youths and staff at ACRP are having a beneficial effect on the athletes.

“The ACRP staff and students have come to our games,” she said. “So the fact that they are there rooting for us has had a positive effect on us. It’s been a ‘win-win’ collaboration.”

She said the athletes love to help others and have amassed a total of 1,200 volunteer hours this year with ACRP alone.

Gearhart said she is fortunate to be obtaining a fantastic education at the university and giving back to the campus and community is a way of saying thanks. She also credits her parents, Terry and Kim Gearhart, with being able to do what she does.

For her efforts, Gearhart, an Elton resident, is the Person of the Week.

Nikki Babik, assistant athletic director at the university, said Gearhart has done a fabulous job of leading the athletes as president. Gearhart got the athletes more active when she became president three years ago and initiated the partnership with ACRP last summer, Babik said.

“She has been a great leader for all the students at Pitt-Johnstown,” she said.

Nina Girard, who as associate professor of mathematics education taught Gearhart, said Gearhart always seizes opportunities to excel and become involved academically, athletically and in the community.

“She possesses an amazing amount of energy, enthusiasm and focus,” Girard said. “She is always willing to do the extra work to ‘make it happen.’ ”

Jim Buday, director of the accountability-enhancement program at ACRP, said Gearhart and Babik, who help at each project, and all the athletes are doing a terrific job.

“They’re so genuine in wanting to help us. They are really an inspiration. They motivate us.”

He said the youngsters in the ACRP program love it when the athletes come to visit.

“The student athletes are making a difference,” he said, adding that they now can conduct more and larger projects because of the additional manpower.

Gearhart currently is student teaching at Conemaugh Township Area High School.