Athletic Liaisons Launch ATEL Program
Issue   |   Tue, 02/12/2013 - 21:53
Eugene Lee ’16, CCE Photographer
The ATEL Program launched at the end of interterm with a 24-hour retreat for the 19 student-athletes part of the program.

On Jan. 22 and 23, the CCE Athletics Liaisons facilitated a 24-hour retreat to train 19 new Athletic Team Engagement Leaders (ATELs) to effectively lead the community engagement efforts on their respective teams.

The Athletics Team Engagement Leader (ATEL) Program is the result of the combined efforts of the Athletics Liaisons, the Center for Community Engagement, and the Athletics Department. The ATEL Program seeks to increase passionate, sustainable community engagement in the Athletics department by training one young person on each team to focus on the interests of their respective teams.

“We’ve seen this secondary leadership model work before with some of our other engagement initiatives,” Karen Lee Miller, who supervises the Athletics Liaisons, explained, “It gives people an opportunity and a title, and then those leaders step up and deliver in ways we never even expected. By adding that level, it empowers more people to do good work.”

The program was the brainchild of Irene Hickey ’13, with the support of her fellow Athletics Liaisons, Roshard Bryant ’14E and Reilly Horan ’13.

“We came up with the idea because the Athletic Liaisons had been trying for a few years to get every athletic team involved in community engagement,” Hickey explained. “And to an extent, we had been successful: we’ve gotten a lot more teams involved who hadn’t been involved before. But we realized that we were inconsistent with our outreach. We decided to make our work more effective by creating a new level of leadership called the Athletics Team Engagement Leaders. We would equip team leaders with the skills and resources that they would need so that they could go back to their team and match the talents and interests and passions of their teammates with the needs of the community.”

The retreat was designed so that new ATELs could absorb a number of important lessons about their position in a brief, comprehensive day: develop a deeper understanding of the history of Amherst and the needs of the community, define what community engagement is and learn about the ongoing collaborative efforts between the college and the community, brainstorm ways to enhance Athletic Department participation in this effort, build skills to facilitate this process on their team, and meet and collaborate with the Athletics Liaisons and different teams’ ATELs.

Throughout the 24-hour kick-off retreat, new ATELs went on a town-wide scavenger hunt to learn about Amherst’s history and speak with members of the community. Later, they dined with community partners from the Amherst Senior Center, Amherst Regional Public Schools, and the Amherst Survival Center to hear about community needs and brainstorm solutions, and did role playing exercises to build facilitative leadership skills.

Chris Tamasi ’15, one of three new ATELs for the football team, reflected on how the retreat helped him nuance his definition of what community engagement really is: “the most impactful idea that I took away from our retreat was defining the difference between community service and community engagement. It became clear that our goal as ATELs is to strive towards community engagement opportunities that are sustainable, meaningful, and reciprocative.”

After sleeping over in the First Congregational Church in town, the Athletics Liaisons and ATELs shared breakfast with several coaches from the department and Athletic Director Suzanne Coffey, who all spoke to the new ATELs about the importance of prioritizing community engagement.

“I’m really proud of our department’s relationship with the CCE,” Coffey said, “and would love for student-athletes to choose to come to Amherst because they choose to be involved in the community, to use their other passions and apply them in some way. The ATELs are practicing something remarkably simple. Knowing your community. Fitting your passion to a need. It is fundamental and simple, but brilliant. These young leaders are facilitating that in this department, and that’s a great thing.”

The Athletics Liaisons look forward to the first semester of the ATEL Program to see how new ATELs will apply their training to initiate some new and exciting engagement projects for the Amherst community.

“What would define success is if these ATELs are able to go back to their teams and to figure out what the passions of their teams are and capitalize on it,” Hickey concluded. “They now have a strong sense of what the work they are now setting out to do is all about. We can’t wait to see what they do.”