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Satcher Delivers Fall 2022 Realizing the Dream Distinguished Lecture

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

Former United States Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher encouraged audience members to consider the role of science in health equity as the fall 2022 Realizing the Dream Distinguished Lecturer, emphasizing that it is never too early to make a difference.

Realizing the Dream partner Stillman College hosted the lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at the Stillman Stinson Auditorium. Satcher was the 16th Surgeon General of the United States and former Secretary for Health in the Department of Health and Human Services. He is only the second person in history to hold both posts simultaneously.

As Realizing the Dream is a celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Satcher recalled his memories of hearing Dr. King speak while studying at Morehouse College.

“A group of us would always get together when we knew that Dr. King was going to be in town and he was going to be speaking, and we’d walk the five miles to hear Dr. King’s speech,” Satcher said. “It was a kind of experience that sort of penetrated you deeply in terms of believing that we shall overcome.”

Satcher then transitioned to his speech, inspired in part by Dr. King’s dream of equity when applied to public health. He discussed the role of science yesterday, today and tomorrow, as well as the government’s role in ensuring health equity.

“When I was director of the CDC … we focused on immunizing children against measles, mumps and rubella, and I think we saved a lot of lives by immunizing children,” Satcher said. “But it’s almost as if you start over again years later when people are questioning whether immunizations are safe, and so there were a lot of questions raised when this pandemic started.”

Satcher discussed the impact of the Tuskegee Study in trusting science and government as it related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s nothing wrong with science. The problem is the way we use it,” Satcher said. “We have to make a commitment to quality science carried out by committed people, so that people will not have to question whether or not the government is still doing the kind of things that were done in Tuskegee when almost 600 Black men were studied, but not treated for syphilis.”

Public health, as Satcher defined, is about “coming together, creating the conditions for people to be healthy.”

He shared the story of former Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry issuing the Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of smoking and why Terry quit smoking right before the press conference on the report’s findings as an analogy for taking the initiative to create a healthy lifestyle.
“His argument was that it was never too late to quit, but by the same token, it is never too late to begin certain things in your life,” said Satcher.

Satcher concluded his remarks with a call to action, reminding the audience that everyone needs to create a better future for generations to come. Following the lecture, a brief question and answer session was held.

You Make UA Great Celebrates Campus Employees

  • October 10th, 2022
  • in News

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

To thank employees for their contributions to The University of Alabama, UA hosted an evening of fun, activities and live entertainment for faculty, staff and their families during the inaugural You Make UA Great event, which took place Monday, Oct. 3 on the Quad.

“We are celebrating you because of an impact that you have every day on this campus and whether that’s in a residence hall, whether that’s in a classroom, whether that’s in a cafeteria, or any place on this campus, the way that you invest in our students and invest in our campus is what makes this university special,” said Dr. Stuart Bell, UA president.

The Division of Community Affairs, along with other campus partners, hosted the event.

“He [Dr. Bell] and I both agree that this institution, we’re often in the headlines for some major accomplishment, but it’s not the brick and mortar that does that, it’s the people who work here,” said Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs.

The purpose of the event was to show gratitude for all the ways employees contribute to the success of UA and the surrounding community.

“This is a really fun event to celebrate the employees here at the University because everyone here, no matter where you work, works really hard,” said Rebecca Johnson, communications specialist for UA Museums. “Sometimes we are in our own little bubbles, and we don’t know what other departments are out there, what everybody does, so this is a good way to meet other people and get to know everybody else on campus.”

As Johnson emphasized, employees in attendance enjoyed mingling with their colleagues across campus.

“I think it’s very unique for everybody ... to get together and get to know each other in different departments,” said Andrea Thomas, a staff member in facilities and custodial services.

“We are seeing friends and families from all over that we are friends with on campus that we don’t get to see very often,” echoed Lindsey Graham, associate director of operations for Student Account Services.

Attendees were treated to free food from local food truck vendors, games and activities. Local band, Bound and Determined, as well as the Million Dollar Band, provided live music, making for a fun evening for employees to spend with their colleagues and loved ones.
“I’m a remote employee, so it’s time conducive for me to be able to come with my family in the afternoon, get my kids from school and come over and get my husband off work, so I just think it’s great to have a family-friendly event,” said Jackie Harrison, program coordinator for the School of Social Work.

Big Al made a special appearance to pose for photos and mingle with the crowd. In addition to the music and activities, the event featured a resource table fair that showcased on- and off-campus resources available to UA employees and retirees.

“I think it’s a great idea because anytime there’s a large organization like the University, some people get siloed, and they don’t even know everything that’s out there, so having the opportunity to figure out what’s actually on campus, plus the surrounding resources in the community is great,” said Jeff Knox, CEO of YMCA of Tuscaloosa County. The YMCA was also one of the organizations with a table at the resource fair.

“It’s great and to be able to thank the employees because they’re our number one employee campaign,” added Monique Scott, campaign director for United Way of West Alabama.

While the event was geared toward employees, it was also an opportunity for students to share their appreciation for the impact faculty and staff have.

“Thank you for always continuing to put students first and know that we are grateful for you and the work that you put in our programs,” said Madeline Martin, SGA president as she addressed the crowd. “We couldn’t do what we do without what you do for us.”

Art of Town and Gown Relationships Reception Highlights Neighborhood Partnerships

  • September 7th, 2022
  • in News

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

Collegiate athletics rivalries were cast aside when members of the InterCity Leadership Visit group from Athens, Ga., networked with their University of Alabama and Tuscaloosa city counterparts to discuss building town and gown relationships during the Art of Town and Gown Relationships Reception on Aug. 31.

The reception took place at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in historic downtown Tuscaloosa, where visitors were greeted with live music from the Alabama Blues Project and treats themed around the Crimson Tide.

“Successful town and gown relationships require many conversations with partners across a community and having the opportunity to learn from other college towns about their challenges and opportunities provides those partners with ideas to bring home and adapt to fit the needs of their hometown,” said Alison McCullick, director of Community Relations for the University of Georgia.

The University of Alabama (UA) and University of Georgia are member institutions of the International Town and Gown Association, a global nonprofit association dedicated to college campus and community interests.

McCullick said the idea for the intercity visit came about as the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce worked with Georgia Power to identify communities with major universities that have similar challenges and opportunities.

“Tuscaloosa and Athens and a lot of college communities are on the cusp I think of continued expansive growth, but that growth, if it’s not done strategically, you have winners and losers,” said David Bradley, president and CEO of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce. “Let’s figure out to do it strategically so more people win.”

During the reception, members of UA’s Neighborhood Partnership Committee (NPC) shared how the group was created in 2003 from a mutual effort to address community concerns with university students moving into the city’s historic district.

“I got involved because our president at the time said we have to figure out how to make this work, and I’m so grateful that we were able to get it to work,” said Dr. Samory Pruitt, UA vice president for Community Affairs.

NPC is composed of students, off-campus neighbors, business owners, community leaders, city officials, University police officers, city police, ABC Board officials and University administrators whose mission is to improve the relationships between students, law enforcement and off-campus neighbors.

“We all know the landscape of law enforcement across our country, the difficulty that we’ve been having over the past few years, so it’s been good for me to be a part of bridging the gap between us and, not just the university community, but Tuscaloosa as a whole,” said Daniel Mosely, community relations officer for the UA Police Department and member of NPC. “I really appreciate this opportunity. We all know that with dialogue, a lot of things can be accomplished.”

As Mosely highlighted, working to improve communication among neighbors, business owners, students and law enforcement officials can proactively address issues that are of mutual concern to sustaining town and gown relationships.

“We have to look at something that provides a benefit and incentive to all the groups to let them rise above their own personal economic interests and look at what is best for the university and community as a whole,” said Robert Reynolds, who was part of the initial formation of NPC.

“Community engagement initiatives such as the UA Neighborhood Partnership Committee are extremely valuable and reflect campus and community commitment,” said Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of programs and partnerships for Community Engagement and member of the Board of Directors for the ITGA. “It has been wonderful to highlight the art of developing relationships among partners in town and gown shared spaces.”

As Bradley mentioned, the visit to Tuscaloosa provided an opportunity for one college town to learn from another through that dialogue.

“There are so many very close similarities between Athens and Tuscaloosa and the University of Georgia and The University of Alabama, so what better way to try to leverage those connections than to get together to learn,” Bradley said.

“It’s been a great experience as a student to hear from leaders across the city, but also on campus and to hear how we can work as a team,” added Madeline Martin, UA SGA president.

UA HomeFirst Coaches’ Retreat Supports Students, Volunteers


by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

Volunteers participating in The University of Alabama’s HomeFirst Coaches’ Retreat from Aug. 25–26 at Capital Hall learned interpersonal skills are just as important as financial literacy when guiding future homeowners.

Housed in UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships, HomeFirst is a financial wellness initiative that serves individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership or foreclosure prevention. The retreat trained volunteer coaches to work with HomeFirst participants with presentations on financial literacy and establishing interpersonal skills with potential homeowners. The coaching participants put their skills to the test with activities on role-playing and active listening.

“I’m a social worker, social work student in the grad program, so [HomeFirst] kind of falls in line with what I plan to do,” said Ayana Hendricks-Boyland, a graduate research assistant for Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of Programs and Partnerships for Community Engagement. “I love that we are able to educate the community about finances.”

“I did the peer financial coaching here [at UA], so I’ve done a similar thing before, and it’s nice to get that opportunity again,” said Kassia Jezak, a senior dual major in financial planning and marketing at UA. “You’re not above them at all or bossing them around. It’s a very equal relationship.”

The retreat also highlighted a new partnership between HomeFirst and the UA College of Human Environmental Sciences (CHES). Dr. Kyoung Tae Kim, associate professor and graduate program coordinator for the Department of Consumer Sciences, said the partnership began in the summer of 2022. A goal of the collaboration is to send UA students in CHES and consumer sciences to HomeFirst coaching opportunities for more practical experience in financial planning.

“I bought my house this summer, but if I knew about this program before I purchased it, I would be participating as a participant,” Kim said. “Even though I’m a financial planning professor who teaches insurance, taxes and so many financial planning things, purchasing a home in reality is a little bit different … so I’m so glad to see that this program is ready to help faculty, staff and students, and I’m so proud of being here as a small partner.”

The partnership between CHES and HomeFirst has already gaged student interest. After hearing James Renshaw, program coordinator for Programs and Partnerships for Community Engagement, speak to their class in personal asset management, Faith Frost and Sophie Stallings, both seniors majoring in finance, decided to volunteer as HomeFirst coaches.

“I like that you don’t feel like you’re a professional, kind of like you’re learning along with them,” Frost said.

“I like how supportive and welcoming all the staff has been,” Stallings added. “They’ve made it a really easy introduction.”

While most participants were UA students, faculty and staff, members from outside the UA community also attended the retreat in efforts to become HomeFirst coaches in other areas

“I like that the retreat focuses on how to be a coach more so than just learning information,” said Toya Carter, media specialist at Shelton State Community College.

Tuscaloosa’s Habitat for Humanity Dedicates New Home for HomeFirst Family

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

For many adults, homeownership may seem more like a dream than a possibility, but HomeFirst helps participants take steps to achieve homeownership through financial planning. For HomeFirst participant Kanika Cotton, that dream became a reality when she and her family moved into their new Habitat for Humanity home on Thursday, Aug. 11.

Cotton’s home was funded by Nick’s Kids Foundation, the official charity of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban and his wife, Terry Saban.

“Mrs. Saban wanted to keep it a surprise,” said Cotton. “I think it was in March when Susan Kasteler [Homeowner Services Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa] told me who was sponsoring me, and I was just excited because I work for UA and I’m a big Alabama fan, so it was like a two-in-one win.”

Cotton’s journey to homeownership began in February 2022 with her participation in HomeFirst. Housed in The University of Alabama’s (UA) Center for Community-Based Partnerships, HomeFirst is a financial wellness initiative that serves individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership or foreclosure prevention.

“What I like about HomeFirst is that it actually helped me budget better, and it helped me save, too,” said Cotton. “[HomeFirst] got me prepared for being a homeowner and knowing what to expect.”

Justin Washington, a volunteer coach with HomeFirst and instructor in the Department of Management at UA, has been helping Cotton meet her financial goals with UA HomeFirst and was at the dedication ceremony for Cotton’s new home.

“As much as I’m coaching Kanika, it also challenges me to stay sharp on my financial well-being, so when we're working through the modules, it allows me to reflect on how I’m doing in certain areas as well,” said Washington. “We’re taking this journey together.”

Cotton finished the program in the summer, just in time to move into her new home.

Retreat Prepares Volunteers in UAB-AmeriCorps VISTA to be HomeFirst Coaches


by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

Held at The Westin Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, Aug. 4–5, the HomeFirst University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Coaches’ Retreat offered volunteer coaches in the UAB-AmeriCorps VISTA Statewide Program insight into the barriers to homeownership and tips for supporting participants on their path to homeownership.

Housed in The University of Alabama’s (UA) Center for Community-Based Partnerships, HomeFirst is a financial wellness initiative that serves individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership or foreclosure prevention. The retreat marks the expansion of HomeFirst into the Birmingham area as UAB looks to replicate the program.

Beginning in 2021, HomeFirst sought to partner with UAB to serve high-needs rural communities. By partnering with UA HomeFirst, UAB will offer the program across the Alabama Black Belt. UAB plans to serve 25 participants in these counties, with the majority to be served coming from rural areas.

“I got involved with HomeFirst after meeting with a community partner and Dr. [Nicole] Prewitt. I also spoke with Dean [Eric] Jack about the HomeFirst program,” said Dr. Stephanie Yates, professor of finance and director of the Regions Institute for Financial Education at UAB.

After brief introductions, the retreat began with an overview of the HomeFirst program on Thursday, Aug. 4.

“I look forward to pairing HomeFirst and financial wellness with health and wellness [because] their work focuses on reducing poverty throughout Alabama,” added Dr. Amy Hutson Chatham, assistant dean of undergraduate education at UAB and director of the UAB-AmeriCorps VISTA Statewide Program.

The first day concluded with an active listening activity and scavenger hunt trivia activity based on the coaching modules and resources. During Friday’s luncheon, participants learned tips to facilitate disclosure and trust during the coaching relationship panel.

“What I am learning most from this retreat is how to market yourself in the financial world,” said Kristi Dunning, an AmeriCorp Vista from Wilcox County.

Volunteers put their new skills into action during a mock coaching session, a role-playing exercise allowing coaches to place themselves in their participants’ shoes.

“I really enjoyed meeting the participants,” said Cheryl Sanders, program manager for UAB Regions Institute for Financial Education. “[The] participants really wanted to create a better situation for their children.”

The coaches’ retreat concluded with a tour of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Museum, one of the largest sports halls of fame in the nation.

Showcase Concludes Inaugural BLAST Academy

  • August 1st, 2022
  • in CCBP

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

BLAST Academy (Building Leaders Through the Arts, STEM and Teamwork), a new summer enrichment program for K–6 students, celebrated its inaugural class with a final showcase and awards ceremony on July 29 at the Moody Music Hall.

“I was the first in my family to go to college. A lot of people helped me in my life, and personally to be a part of something like this and providing this opportunity for young people, it’s very, very special,” said Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs.

Led by Dr. Daniela Susnara, director of planning and assessment for community engagement in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, BLAST developed as a partnership among the Hale County School District, the Tuscaloosa City School District (TCS) and the Tuscaloosa County School System, as well as the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences at The University of Alabama.

“As educators, we’ve known research for a long time that the amount of time kids are in school or in a space where they learn matters,” said Dr. Andrew Maxey, director of strategic initiatives for TCS. “The research on what works in the summer space is that they have to want to be here more than they want to be in the pool.”

Held on UA’s campus from July 5–29, BLAST Academy encouraged summer learning in a creative environment for children ages 5–12, with a focus on arts education, physical education, STEM and social emotional learning.

“I worked for the Tuscaloosa City School system, and I was like, this is something so great,” said, D’Juana Cook, whose grandson participated in BLAST. “I told my daughter [to] let him do it because it enhances his mind. It gives him something to keep thinking and keep focusing on. But everything was organized well, and I’m very pleased.”

“I enjoyed the different people coming together, the schools coming together,” echoed Shenna Crockett, whose daughter participated in BLAST. “I think it’s very helpful for them educational wise social as well as learning more structure in a different environment besides school.”

Camp instructional sessions were held in UA classrooms, letting participants experience the educational benefits at the Capstone.

“I taught some classes in one of the buildings this summer, and I got to see every day what was going on through three floors of my building, so it was really exciting,” said Dr. Liza Wilson, senior associate dean for the UA College of Education. “When there’s fun, you want to learn and keep learning. We want you [the campers] to be lifelong learners.”

At the start of the showcase, campers’ experiments from the STEM sessions were on display in the lobby of the Moody Music Hall in the form of city skyscrapers built from paper geometric shapes to bridges made of craft sticks. There were also petri dishes from their biology lessons and lab journals where participants noted their observations and thoughts throughout the program.

After the welcome, the STEM education and physical education award winners for each grade level were announced. The showcase concluded with an arts education performance of each age group.

“One of my favorite words is STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” said Dr. Charles Snead, director of the School of Music. “Science, technology, engineering and math are the disciplines that make it possible for us to have a world to live in, but it is those of us in the arts and the creative disciplines that make that life worth living, so the creativity that comes from what has happened this week is awesome. We all know from all kinds of research and studies the more creative a mind thinks, the better you are at whatever you do.”

HomeFirst Hosts Greene County Coaches’ Retreat


by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

At The University of Alabama, one need look no further than the Paul W. Bryant Museum to see how coaching builds success, so it was only appropriate that the HomeFirst Greene County Coaches’ Retreat end with a tour of the museum on Friday, July 22.

Held at the Capstone Hotel in Tuscaloosa July 21–22, the HomeFirst Greene County Coaches’ Retreat provided an overview of HomeFirst and opportunities for volunteers to practice their coaching skills and learn how to build rapport with participants. The sessions included mock interviews, coaching activities, presentations and panel discussions designed to help coaches build rapport with future homeowners. At the end of the retreat, volunteers learned how they can extend UA’s coaching legacy as financial coaches who support and assist individuals’ and families’ goals of homeownership.

Housed in UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), HomeFirst is a financial wellness initiative that serves individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership or foreclosure prevention.

“I believe that homeownership is the capstone of the American dream, and as such it’s only appropriate that [HomeFirst] be located here at the Capstone of education in the state of Alabama,” said Dr. Jim McLean, associate vice president for Community Affairs and executive director of CCBP, before Friday’s luncheon. “But we really appreciate your participation and the leadership that you’re showing in this program. I was telling someone earlier I wish I would have had a coach to help me through the first time [that I bought a house].”

Melissa Knox, a former participant in HomeFirst, described the importance of coach-participant relationships in helping first-time homebuyers.

“I can’t say enough about the program,” Knox said. “We didn’t have a clue, and the process that they took us through made it so much easier and so much smoother for us. I can’t thank the HomeFirst program enough, and the coaching is the key.”

Josie Cox, student retention coordinator at Shelton State Community College, shared the importance of HomeFirst coaches in overcoming challenges facing rural communities, such as Greene County, during Friday’s luncheon.

“There are limited resources and barriers that rural communities face,” Cox said. “I think that what you’re doing here by giving people an avenue to homeownership and giving them that opportunity to advance and get equity and also building that capital and also being able to pass that down for generations to come is definitely a step in the right direction as far as building family wealth.”

Marie Butler, program coordinator for HomeFirst in Greene County, works with the coaches in Greene County and highlighted the goal of the partnership.

“Ms. [Anita] Lewis is from Greene County, and she brought her concerns that there wasn’t a housing program in the area that would provide housing finance awareness, so people in Greene County could afford safe and decent housing,” Butler said. “This program will allow the residents of Greene County to be able to have a home in Greene County. I know she doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

“Living in Eutaw all my life, I realized that the housing situation was something that needed to be worked on. … Since 2005, that’s what I’ve been working on, trying to get more housing into Greene County,” said Anita Lewis, executive director at the Housing Authority of Greene County. “I think what’s going to happen from this retreat [is] it makes us thirsty for more, and I think it’s going to make the volunteer coaches more engaged.”

STEM Entrepreneurship Academy Encourages STEM Innovation for High Schoolers

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

Twenty-eight high school students from across Alabama collaborated on a community or school-based need using principles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) during this year’s STEM Entrepreneurship Academy (SEA), Sunday through Friday, July 10–15 at The University Alabama.

“This camp holds a special place in my heart because it’s really at the intersection of entrepreneurship and science that most innovation takes place,” said Dr. Jim McLean, associate vice president for Community Affairs and executive director of the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP).

Teams presented their proposed projects to the community during a final showcase at North Lawn Hall on July 15, where the winners were announced.

Ryan Hodges, Alex Kimbrell, Tia McGuffie and Matthew Waldrop from Brookwood High School (Tuscaloosa County School System) were named winners for their project, “Career Assistance Program.” Kayln Coleman, Kerahgan Peterson and Tanaya Williams from Central High School (Phenix City Schools) had the second winning project, “Feminine Hygiene Machine.”

Each team received $1,000 in the form of grant funding for their schools to implement these programs.

Held annually during July, the one-week residential camp provides students opportunities to improve their knowledge and application of STEM while developing their entrepreneurship skills during hands-on workshops and listening to experts in the field at The University of Alabama.

“I like working with them,” said Elizabeth Jernigan, UA instructor of marketing and SEA instructor for STEM in business. “It has kind of segued into some other things, like this past spring a handful of our students and I went down to Greensboro High School once a week, and we worked with them on innovation projects. Then they got to come visit campus in April, so it’s been fun.”

As Jernigan pointed out, SEA connects UA faculty with rising high school students, but for campers, SEA also provides a glimpse into college life.

“I like that they have the professors come out and teach us some of the stuff, like civil engineering and all the different types and what they focus on and what they help us do,” said Jacob Woods, a student from G.W. Carver High School.

Students also learned about the real-world applications of STEM from guest speakers, such as Tim Lewis, a telecommunications consultant, and employees of D.H. Griffin Wrecking, the company that imploded Tutwiler Hall.

Campers put their skills to the test by working on group project proposals that addressed a need within their community or school, presenting their entrepreneurship ideas at the final showcase.

“They’re all really smart girls, and just for them to have the opportunity to come here for a week and learn different things and also share some of the things that they know, it makes me proud,” said Angela Peterson, whose daughter was on the Central High grant-winning team.

“I am very ecstatic because coming from an area that lacks opportunity and just being a teen mom, to see my daughter that I have in life to come to this amazing university to participate amongst other students, it was just amazing,” added Tiesha Bryant.

Participating students were nominated by their respective schools and were Amelia L. Johnson High School, Bibb County High School, Brookwood High School, G.W. Carver High School, Hillcrest High School, Holt High School, Northside High School, Paul W. Bryant High School, Sipsey Valley High School, Valiant Cross Academy, Sumter Central High School, Central High School of Tuscaloosa and Central High of Phenix City.

SEA is led by Andrea Ziegler, director for Community Education at CCBP.

Swim To the Top Participants Recognized in Showcase Celebration

  • July 5th, 2022
  • in CCBP

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

Approximately 160 children gathered in the Benjamin Barnes YMCA gymnasium to demonstrate what they learned from Swim to the Top during a final showcase on July 1. The program, now in its ninth year, is led by Dr. Daniela Susnara, director of planning and assessment for community engagement.

To start, the campers performed a choreographed dance routine learned in the arts education component. Afterward, the children grabbed their swimsuits and headed to the Freeman Pool to show off their swimming skills during the latter part of the celebration. Pictures of the campers’ STEM experiments and volleyball lessons were also on display for parents.

“I like this initiative to teach them how to swim because that will stop a lot of these children, and some others perhaps, from drowning and having a fear of water,” said Lois Lewis, as she watched her grandson swim across the pool.

Held annually during June, Swim to the Top encourages children to reach the “top” in all aspects of life through additional learning in STEM enrichment, arts education, and physical education for children 4–14.

“They really are enthusiastic about learning about science in a hands-on setting,” said Rachel Hill, one of the program’s STEM instructors. “They need to be exposed to STEM opportunities because there are STEM jobs everywhere, and if we can spark an interest while they’re young, who knows where it will take them in the future.”

This year’s STEM enrichment focused on environmental awareness. For one experiment, children learned about oil spill cleanups and how to research with computers. Additionally, campers strengthened their sportsmanship and teamwork abilities in the PE sessions, learning volleyball and tennis.

New this year was an arts education component in which campers learned how to express their creativity through drawing, music and dance, giving them a well-rounded experience¬¬.

“Swim to the Top added so much value to the campers’ experience,” said LaKeda Smith, executive director of the Benjamin Barnes YMCA. “They take a holistic approach to helping us equip the children.”

“The best part about this is what the kids accomplish through collaboration,” added Jeff Knox, CEO, Tuscaloosa County YMCA.

This was the first year Swim to the Top collaborated with UA Swimming and Diving. Some of the coaches and athletes provided swim instruction, and the campers toured the UA Aquatic Center to learn about the competitive side of swimming.

“I think that it shows you ... the value of sport is so big and that goes so much beyond results and SEC titles and similar rankings, so I think for the staff, for our team, to see that they can make a real big impact in the community just by teaching these skills is huge, but also [as] just another positive role model for these kids,” said Roman Willets, assistant coach for UA Swimming and Diving.

George Stewart, Tuscaloosa native and playwright who attended the showcase, remarked on the importance of these partnerships in empowering youth.

“I’m originally from Tuscaloosa, so I’ve been in this pool before when I was a kid over at the Y … so, to see it still alive is a wonderful thing,” said Stewart. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity to introduce the young people to swimming, but also the effort that people care. That doesn’t click right now with them, but when they look back on it, they’ll understand that somebody cared enough to give them something that they didn’t know they needed, and they had fun doing it.”