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Big Red teams, athletics department embrace Adopt-A-Family program

For more than a decade, Cornell associate director of athletics Andrea Dutcher, MILR '87, has been getting people in athletics involved in "adopting" families over the holiday season.

Women's gymnastics team members wrap presents

Members of the women's gymnastics team wrap presents for the Adopt A Family program during a holiday party in December 2011.

The Salvation Army's Adopt-A-Family (AAF) program pairs impoverished families with individuals or group sponsors to provide for their tangible needs at Christmas. Sponsors are asked to purchase, wrap and label three toys and two articles of clothing per child, along with purchasing generic gifts for the adults and providing food for their adopted family for three days, including a special holiday meal.

Athletics' departmentwide participation -- from student-athletes and staff alike -- in this program has been growing, and this year hit an all-time record.

Fourteen teams, as well as Cornell Outdoor Education's Outdoor Odyssey, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, Athletic Alumni Affairs, Recreation Services and others sponsored 20 families, while additional staff members donated $800 to support the shopping efforts. All purchased items were delivered to the Salvation Army Dec. 14 for distribution.

Among those teams that have volunteered for the AAF program the longest are women's basketball, women's rowing and gymnastics.

"Adopt-A-Family has been very special to the women's rowing program," says Hilary Gehman, the Staley Head Coach of Women's Rowing. "The athletes love getting gifts for the kids in the family each year and it really means something to be able to give back to the community in a tangible and truly enjoyable way. Every year just before Thanksgiving break, the rowers ask when we'll get the family details, and they start planning the shopping. It really brings the team together in the holiday spirit of giving."

Assistant coach Melanie Dilliplane coordinates the gymnastics team's efforts and agrees with Gehman that the student-athletes find this to be a very meaningful way to give back to the Ithaca community.

"We feel that whenever there is an opportunity to give back to community, we want to try to be a part of that and this program directly affects many people in Ithaca," Dilliplane says. "Not only can we provide food and gifts for a family, we can show how much this community means to our team. We hope that through our support, we can all gain a greater sense of self, others, and community."

"The great aspect of this program is that 100 percent of the effort goes directly to the needy families," Dutcher says. "So many of us are blessed with our good health and good jobs while so many around us are not. It is just a small way that we can make a huge difference in the lives of those in need at this time of year."

Being "adopted" is designed to be a once or, on very rare occasions, twice-in-a-lifetime event for recipient families, but for Cornell athletics it has become one of its most enduring holiday traditions.

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