SAINT LEO, Fla. - Since 2003, student athletes across the nation have been working diligently to make dreams come true for children with life-changing illnesses. Nicole (DeBlois) Semeraro, wife of Saint Leo University’s Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, John Semeraro, introduced student athletes to the Make A Wish Foundation while studying and playing volleyball at Bentley College in Massachusetts. As a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative at her school, Nicole (DeBlois) Semeraro helped to establish the tradition of granting wishes at a National SAAC Meeting. Since then, Division II SAAC members from every state have made it their goal to grant children’s wishes. “We believed in the mission and the work of the Make A Wish Foundation, and as Division II student-athletes, wanted to find a cause [that] all student-athletes in Division II could work together on,” says John Semeraro, who was previously a member of Saint Leo University’s SAAC. “We found that everyone was doing so much great work individually on their campuses – why not try to find a cause where we could make a great impact collectively, regardless of conference affiliation, campus size, or location?”
Today, Division II programs from coast to coast are participating in the donation challenge to raise money for Make A Wish. Saint Leo University, where John Semeraro is currently an Associate Athletic Director, is one of the schools that has taken this cause to heart. Founded by local Benedictine monks 1889 as Saint Leo College in Saint Leo, Florida, this small Division II private school is currently the home to just over 1,800 on-campus students. With a curriculum that incorporates the six Benedictine values of excellence, responsible stewardship, respect, integrity, community, and personal development, students at Saint Leo University are daily reminded of their ties to their Benedictine founders. The home of 17 intercollegiate sports teams, Saint Leo University began this mission in 2003, originally teaming up with other schools from the Sunshine State Conference to reach the minimum $5,000 to grant a child’s wish. However, the 2010-2011 school year set a new benchmark for Saint Leo University students and faculty as they single-handedly raised $5,130 to grant the wish of Dylan, a child with epilepsy who suffers from life-threatening seizures. At a national level, Division II schools raised $405,752, barely missing their record of $407,683 that was created the year before. “The team worked relentlessly to reach their goal, and we are beyond thrilled that somebody as deserving as Dylan was able to have his wish fulfilled,” said Saint Leo University SAAC Advisor and head Women’s Golf coach, Erika Brennan.
This year, the Saint Leo SAAC has set an amazing goal of single-handedly granting two wishes – an effort that will take $10,000 in donations to be made possible. However, unlike previous years where only Saint Leo Athletics has contributed to the cause, Saint Leo University’s SAAC has decided this year to incorporate all of its clubs, departments, and organizations and turn the tradition into a campus-wide effort. Thus far, it’s been working; since just the beginning of September, Saint Leo University has amazingly already collected $5,000 for the Make A Wish Foundation.
Unlike previous years where collecting donations has been somewhat of a struggle for Saint Leo University student-athletes, the first two months of the 2011-2012 school year have been met with great pride and eagerness at being responsible stewards and raising money for such a great cause. Saint Leo University’s Student Government Union marked the beginning of the year-long donation challenge by contributing $2,500 to the fund while student-athletes helped to get the ball rolling by setting team goals and selling raffle tickets. Many of Saint Leo University’s sororities and fraternities have pledged to participate in a donation competition amongst each other and Lions faculty, staff, and coaches have each decided to play a role in the cause in their own special way. “What's great is that many different clubs, organizations, and Greeks are already pledging to help in our endeavor. What a fun way to create a competitive spirit for such a great cause," explains Brennan.
The goal for the year is still $10,000 at Saint Leo University, but raising so much money in such a quick amount of time has students looking toward the horizon. "They are well on their way to achieving the goal of granting two wishes,” says Brennan, “and it wouldn't surprise me if they surpass their 10,000 goal."
If you are interested in making a donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation through Saint Leo University, please contact Erika Brennan at Erika.Brennan@saintleo.edu.
Softball junior Katie Gwinn contributed to this story.