Huskies Use Their Summer To Give Back

Aug. 15, 2008

While the average college student might spend their summer working part-time jobs, lying by the pool, traveling, and relaxing, the seven returning players on the Washington women's basketball team are far from average. Summer days for these Huskies are full of classes, basketball camps, countless hours in the gym lifting weights and conditioning, not to mention the thousands of shots put up each week. But what makes this basketball team different from any other women's basketball team across the country is their willingness to give back to the community.

Since the beginning of July, Mackenzie Argens, Michelle Augustavo, Laura McLellan, Heidi McNeill, Sara Mosiman, Sarah Morton, and Sami Whitcomb have been involved in a program called 'Sisters in Strength' on a bi-weekly basis. The program was started by former Roosevelt High School and current Lithuanian professional basketball league player Lindsey Wilson, who was looking to start an exercise, mentorship, and life skills program for teenage girls in foster care within the Seattle area. Each of the young girls involved in her program is matched with a collegiate athlete for sessions of strength training and fitness, as well as workshops on goal setting, nutrition, self-esteem building, and overall well roundedness.

Wilson, noting the importance of sports and fitness in her life, said she's always enjoyed giving back to the community and knows how hard it is for college athletes to find time to truly give back to the communities that give so much to them. When she established her 'Sisters in Strength' program, she immediately had the UW women's basketball team in mind.

Having played pick-up basketball with a few of them, she knew they were a confident, yet humble group of girls and that they would be a perfect fit for her upstart program. When she contacted the returning players to see if there was any interest, she was pleasantly surprised to get solid commitments from all seven of them.

'The commitment of being there every week and the way they so easily interact with the young ladies speaks a lot about who the girls are in general,' Wilson said. 'They are so much more than just basketball players and that speaks highly of the program in general.'

Through the help of the organizations Treehouse for Kids and the YWCA, who put her in contact with eligible foster children in the Seattle area, plus the generosity of local business Columbia City Fitness who has allowed the program to work and use their facilities for no charge, Wilson got the program rolling when she returned from Slovakia after a season of playing basketball. While playing there, she made a connection with orphaned kids in the town she played in and it broke her heart to have to leave them.

Being so touched by this group of children, she knew she wanted to get something started in her hometown of Seattle this summer. Although the program is small now, Wilson is looking to expand it over the coming years. She is looking to include more sports teams from not just UW, but other schools and universities next summer.'It's basically a big sisters program with exercise,' said Wilson, implying that the more young ladies she can get for the future, the more big sisters she'll need to pair them with.

The Husky players have been quite moved by the experience and have had many of them eager to be more involved with the community, even when the slower summer months are over.

Senior guard Michelle Augustavo commented that 'it's cool being in the community and having them (the young girls) look up to us. You can tell they really appreciate working with us.'

While helping the young ladies build self-confidence and learn to love themselves for who they are, the Huskies have also learned a little about themselves.

Sophomore center Mackenzie Argens realized that not everyone learns in the same way.'In helping my little sister do workouts, I've really had to slow down my process and take her through things step-by-step.' She further commented that 'it's been fun just spending time with the girls and the team.'

Argens and program director Lindsey Wilson both played at Roosevelt High School for legendary coach Bill Resler but missed playing together by a few years. 'Bill used to always talk about Lindsey and how great she is, and now I'm getting to know her, so that's been fun,' added Argens.

The happiness the Huskies have received from working with their young 'little sister' has been tremendous and very fulfilling for all.

'It's very satisfying seeing the younger girls work hard and seeing that we are making a difference in their lives,' commented Augustavo. 'It's been great seeing them grow as human beings and watching their confidence grow.'

The program has been quite a success according to both the Husky basketball team and director Lindsey Wilson. Although it was designed to help young ladies in foster care become physically, emotionally, and mentally stronger, it seems that a certain group of 'not your average college girls' has also been helped out in the process.

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