What started a few months ago as a routine speaking engagement on the importance of community service has resulted in an ongoing effort by NIU athletes to mentor local girls through soccer.
Among the members of the audience – comprised of Northern Illinois University (NIU) athletes and coaches – was NIU Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach Angela Staveskie. Afterward, Staveskie approached the speaker, Jennifer Groce, NIU director of Community Affairs, and told her she’d been wanting to mentor young girls through soccer.
Groce connected her with NIU Police Officer Junelle Bennett, who is known for volunteer work in the community. What resulted is an ongoing and growing collaboration among NIU Athletics and Brooks Elementary School in DeKalb. The program, called Huskies for Her, launched this year.
Through Huskies for Her, NIU soccer players mentored third-grade girls at Brooks for six weeks on the topics of self-confidence, health and well- being, and team-building.
“At a young age, specifically third-fifth grade, it is so very important for young girls to feel accepted and confident as they are rapidly developing physically, mentally and emotionally,” Staveskie explained.
Staveskie said that being a member of a team has always been a constant in her life, teaching her not only the sport itself but also values such as trust, leadership, accountability, work ethic and more. She said it was gratifying to watch those concepts and skills build among the girls over the course of the program.
“By week six, it was so rewarding to see how much these girls were growing to respect one another both on and off the field,” she said. “Each week, we saw growth in the relationship we had with the girls and the relationship the girls had with each other.”
She said at first, that relationship took some nurturing.
“The first couple weeks were a little tough, as it took some time for the girls to buy in and took us some time to connect with each and every girl,” she said. “But each week, as soon as we’d walk into the classroom, the girls were smiling ear to ear and excited for what was in store.”
Staveskie said what began as a disjointed, somewhat reluctant group of participants quickly grasped onto the concepts and values. By the end of the session, she was impressed to watch them cleaning up after one another, volunteering to carry the heavy ball bag outside, holding hands with classmates with whom they did not normally interact.
“It’s little moments like those that make my heart happy,” she said.
Staveskie said the community partnerships and connections – especially the help provided by Bennett – has been critical to the success of the program’s launch.
“This truly would not have been a success without Junelle’s time, effort and passion,” Staveskie said. “She connects very well with the young and inspires them to be at their best.The program recently launched its second session, this time with fourth-grade girls at Brooks. Staveskie said she also hopes to expand the program to other local schools – and NIU athletics teams – in the fall.