A program that pairs UConn students with schools in Hartford’s North End—using sports as common ground for learning—has instilled the importance of community service in every participant.
Week after week since 2004, UConn students have spent time in Hartford through the Neag School of Education’s Husky Sport program. They work alongside nearly 30 community organizations, particularly the City of Hartford’s Parker Memorial Center, and in five local schools—Capital Prep, Clark, Fred D. Wish, Martin Luther King and SAND—to drive home the importance of education, engage the students in school-wide reading challenges, and participate in sports activities and nutrition lessons.
Some of the UConn names who have contributed to the program are also among the most well-known: Kemba Walker, Maya Moore, Donald Brown, Brittany Hunter, Emeka Okafor, Kevin Ollie and many more. Okafor also supported the program through a 2007 gift, donating $250,000 to the program, which has been integral in the growth of Husky Sport.
Husky Sport is not limited to student-athletes, however. More than 1,000 UConn volunteers participate each year, amassing more than 25,000 hours of community outreach annually through service learning classes led by Jennifer Bruening, Ph.D., in the Department of Kinesiology. Bruening created the Husky Sport program shortly after arriving at UConn in 2002.
“Sport is at the root of our partnership,” Bruening said. “Sports-based youth development provides the basis for teaching larger life lessons. Husky Sport uses sport as a foundation to assist the Hartford students in making smart choices, and bringing real change to their community.”
The UConn students take on a kind of rock-star status among the students at the schools, and their presence helps to encourage the students in Hartford to reach higher. For instance, the Read & Raise Initiative that challenges the students at each of the Hartford schools to read 15,000 books and complete 15,000 work sheets by April 30 was met and surpassed well ahead of the target date. The students in Hartford are also invited to Storrs for events, often tied into Division of Athletics activities
Bruening’s service learning class in Storrs—and the popularity of the program—has allowed for a steady increase in the reach and depth of the Husky Sport program. Through the program, UConn students provide assistance with physical education and nutrition in the schools and partner with Clark Street neighborhood after school programs to increase the number of youth who attend weekly swimming lessons at the Parker Memorial Center.
The program has also expanded its work with the Teens Through College program for high school students preparing for college to include a college credit bearing course at Capital Prep High School. Graduates of the Teens Through College program are presently attending college throughout the state, including UConn.
For more information on Husky Sport, visit huskysport.uconn.edu.