As a rower at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Kristen Azevedo struggled to balance the demands of her sport and her academics with her desire to serve. Now program director for Student Organizations and Leadership at the Haas Center for Public Service, Azevedo knows firsthand the challenges student-athletes face if they want to be involved in service. Since coming to Stanford in 2008, she has been working to connect all students, but especially student-athletes, with service-learning opportunities.

Making the Right Connections

In spring 2011, Azevedo met Natalie Dillon ’13, a member of the women’s tennis team, through Dillon’s involvement in the Haas Center’s 2011-2012 Public Service Leadership Program. They consulted about what Dillon describes as “getting the conversation going about what [kinds of service] athletes are doing and generally getting everyone on the same page.” Azevedo recommended that Dillon connect with Sarah Flynn ‘12, another athlete who was involved in public service and a member of the Stanford Cardinal Council, the student-athlete advisory committee. Dillon began working with Flynn and the council on supporting and coordinating service efforts put forth by student-athletes and their coaches.

Dillon also met Erin Blecha, athletics marketing and community relations coordinator for Stanford Athletics. Blecha, a track and field athlete in college who had started a program called Athletes Giving Back at Augustana College in Illinois, was interested in getting input from Dillon for the athletic department's community outreach plan. Dillon introduced Blecha to Azevedo, and the rest is history.

Up and Running

Cardinal for the Community (C4C), a collaboration between the Department of Athletics and the Haas Center, increases opportunities for student-athletes and teams to do service in the local community. The support of the Cardinal Council is critical to the program's success. Current president of the Cardinal Council, Clayton Holz ’12, a member of the Stanford men’s soccer team, knew Blecha and was happy to have the council provide leadership in coordinating the community service efforts of Stanford student-athletes. Holz was a high school senior when he had his first service experience as a camp counselor for underserved children in his home state of Texas. “I loved it! I was an only child, and I didn’t know anything about children. It was great to hang out with them and have them be so lively and appreciative.”

At Stanford, under the leadership of his coach, Holz did community service with his team as time and the season allowed. In his work with Cardinal Council, which he joined as a freshman, Holz met athletes from all different sports. He realized that many teams, like his own, were involved in service, unbeknownst to each other. “We were all in our own bubble….Uniting our service efforts was also a way to build community among athletes.”

Azevedo always knew that the Haas Center was in a unique position to help provide direct service opportunities for all student-athletes—“to get their feet wet, to meet people from other teams they might not otherwise interact with, and to interact with the local community that comes out to cheer for them.” For one thing, the center has longstanding relationships with community organizations, such as The Opportunity Center and Habitat for Humanity, which provide the type of service projects that are a good fit for student-athletes and their schedules. “Every single organization we’ve talked to has been interested in partnering with the athletes,” Azevedo says.

The Haas Center also provides workshops for students who are doing community service. As part of the C4C effort, Azevedo and Blecha adapted the Haas Center’s principles of ethical and effective service to use in training the athletes who engage with the community. The resulting C.A.R.D. Rules incorporate commitment, awareness, relationship and discussion into the service experience. Holz attended a workshop that Azevedo held for about 25 council representatives. “It was great to hear from members of other teams what motivated them to do service,” he said. “It also really hit home when Kristen talked to us about being role models in the community. I remember when I was playing soccer as a kid, and we got to hang out with soccer players at the University of Kentucky. I looked up to those players and wanted to be just like them.”

There are many advantages to the program, tangible and intangible. Outcomes range from two new playhouses from the Habitat for Humanity build day to student athletes coming to the Haas Center to explore their own service project ideas. Holz’s experience underscores the mutual benefit that community service provides to community partners and Stanford students alike. “Doing service has broadened my perspective on what’s important,” says Holz. “As an athlete, particularly a young one, I was pretty centered on myself and my performance. I am a much better team player now, on and off the field, seeing the big picture.”