On the morning of December 7, members of the Chestnut Hill College Women’s Basketball team loaded into a van and traveled to downtown Philadelphia where they served breakfast to a group of military veterans. Later that day, the team returned to Sorgenti Arena to host the College’s first annual Military Appreciation Night.
“Everyone was so welcoming and willing to help us, meanwhile, we were the ones there to help them,” says Caroline Gehring ’18, who played an integral role in organizing the event. “Everyone was just so appreciative that they were being thought of and that people cared to hear their stories and experiences.”
Gehring, the daughter, granddaughter and niece of naval veterans, volunteered at the Warrior Games this summer, a Department of Defense initiative that pits approximately 250 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans against each other in Olympic-style competition. The athletes are put into teams based on which branch of the military they serve or served in, with teams coming from the Army, Navy/Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom Armed Forces. The games highlight the resiliency and warrior spirit of these athletes as research has shown that adaptive sports and athletic reconditioning play fundamental roles in recovery and reintegration of active-duty service members and veterans.
Returning to campus in the fall, Gehring shared her experiences and her desire to one day work with veterans with Mike West, head women’s basketball coach, and together the two came up with the idea to host a military appreciation theme night at one of the women’s basketball games. They chose the game scheduled for December 7 against the University of Bridgeport, because the date marked the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and the moment the United States became involved in WWII.
“When we decided to do the theme night, we looked at the schedule and it was dumb luck that we happened to have a game on that day,” says West.
Planning for the event began in early October as Gehring reached out to local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) chapters and other veterans’ groups both on and off campus.
Gehring found that the idea grew as she talked to more people. Through the support of Marie Sheetz, assistant registrar and VA certifying official, and the other athletic teams, the women’s basketball team was able to raise $1,000 and collect 40 coats for a coat drive and more than 100 canned goods. All of this was accomplished on the night of the game as the team took donations, sold shirts and wristbands, and ran a 50-50, which was won by one of the veterans Gehring contacted at the VFW.
“He was so happy when we reached out,” says Gehring. “He kept saying that he was so grateful as no one had ever reached out or tried to involve them in something like this. He was just appreciative that someone had thought to do something for veterans. He brought his friend and was one of the eight veterans we honored on the court.”
The donated goods and money will go to the Philadelphia Veterans’ Comfort House in University City, which gives homeless veterans a chance to “start over” and become productive members of society by giving them the tools to find work and permanent housing. CHC’s Women’s Basketball Team volunteered there in the lead-up to the event and plans to do even more service when the season is over.
“I think the biggest thing for us is that we’re not done serving them,” says West. “We want to get into these VA hospitals, talk to different vets and really bring them to us. We want them to know this isn’t a one-time deal or some way to get good press but rather that we do genuinely care. The goal is to go deeper and we plan to continue volunteering as well as hosting this event again next year.”
— Marilee Gallagher ’14