Summer vacation is hardly a time of rest for high school athletes. Between hectic summer league competition and workouts at school, there is precious little down time.
The Heritage High School softball team is no different. The season in Georgia begins in under two months, and for a team with state championship aspirations, the workouts -- scheduled around the girls' travel games -- are intense.
That doesn't stop the players from giving away some of their free time once a week to help others. The Generals come together each Wednesday morning at the Fort Oglethorpe United Methodist Church to assemble meals for needy children in the northwest Georgia area in a program sponsored by the North Georgia YMCA.
What once began as a way to earn some community service hours has turned into a labor of love for the teenagers.
"Our athletic director, Jason Scott, came up with the idea last year to send some of our athletes in different programs to help with programs at the YMCA, and our girls enjoyed doing it so much that they asked to take a whole day on by themselves each week," Heritage softball coach Steve Chattin said. "We have eight girls go to the church to help prepare the meals, and it's really changed the way they see things."
More than 300 children in the area benefit from the program, a number that shocked the volunteers when they started.
"I was just really surprised at just how high the numbers were, how many families are struggling," said Krissy Prewitt, who will be a junior this year. "We didn't know what to expect, but now we love doing it because of what the kids get out of it. We realize that if we don't pack that lunch they may not eat."
North Georgia YMCA executive director John Donahoo backs up that statement.
"This is something that's very much needed in our county and area, because we're going into places where kids have no access to food," Donahoo said. "What the girls are doing is so important because we put together every meal by hand, and if there's no one to do that they don't get delivered. Also, because we want the kids to have a consistent meal time, we have a deadline."
According to Donahoo, more children go hungry in the summer because they don't have access to school meals. He also said there are still some kids who can't be helped due to lack of volunteers.
"Unfortunately, the numbers keep going up by the week, and we have quite a few sites we can't serve," said Donahoo, who mentioned that the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe Band Leadership group also volunteers each week. "We just don't have the help, and the worst thing is we know the numbers are going to keep growing. That's why it means so much that these girls are willing to donate their time to help their community.
"Needless to say, if any organized group wants to get involved, all they have to do is contact us at the YMCA (706-935-2226), and we can find something for them to do."
In the meantime, the Generals will continue to gladly give their time, and in doing so learn a bit about the real world.
"This really gives you a great perspective on life," Prewitt said. "It makes you very aware of all the blessings you have and not to take anything for granted."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.