A TEAM FUNDRAISER FOR A BRIGHT FUTURE
She had been a teacher in a nearby Title I school district for years, loving her job instructing 1st and 4th graders. Now some of Lynn Avara-Stover’s former students were in high school, playing football for the Benton Harbor High Tigers – a team that hadn’t won a single game in four years. With a new coach coming on board – one whose pedigree included head coach at Navy and assistant coach at University of Michigan – the community had hopes for at least a few wins in the coming season. When Coach Elliott Uzelac announced his mission was to “not only have a winning team, but a team that wins in the classroom,” Lynn and her husband, Dale, knew they wanted to do anything they could to support the team and the new coach, so they decided on a team fundraiser.
PITCHING IN WITH A TEAM FUNDRAISER
They weren’t alone. The entire community had rallied around the Tigers throughout the season. “They were winning more games than losing; it was so exciting for our local area,” said Lynn. “This is a school district where 98% of the kids receive free lunch, so moms from the neighboring town would come and fix supper for the boys every evening before practice. They were devoted to the team.”
When the team was just one win away from the championship game, Lynn’s husband, Dale, reached out to her cousin, who was good friends with Coach U, asking what else could be done to support the team. Coach U told him more than anything, he wanted to help the team beyond the field – he wanted them to see bigger possibilities for their future. Coach U explained that he wanted to somehow take the boys on a college tour to Division I schools throughout Michigan, to experience what a D-1 education might mean to them. He wanted them to dream higher than just the local community college.
When Lynn and Dale heard this, they jumped into action. They started by opening a “Tiger Fund,” a team fundraiser with the goal of raising at least $500, and launched a campaign. The husband-and-wife team (who are Origami Owl Co-Designers) first connected with The Exchange Club, a service organization where they are members. The club pledged $500, which United Federal Credit Union matched. Then the local news picked up the story and even more donations started pouring in. More credit unions, the Upton Foundation, former classes of Benton Harbor High, and even a 100-year old woman with ties to the school pitched in money.
“We ended up raising over $12,000 for the team to take their college trip!” said Lynn. “It’s been exciting to see everyone come together to support the team, and for me it’s been especially meaningful because it’s come full-circle. Some of these boys were my students when they were young!”
A TOUR OF OPPORTUNITIES
This last spring, the Tigers were able to visit Michigan State University and Western Michigan University. At Michigan State, the team received a full campus tour, ate with the Michigan State team, and were addressed personally by Michigan State Head Football coach, Mark Dantonio, about the value of higher education.
For the Western Michigan University visit, the team was able to attend football camp. During this camp, the players were each able to attend training sessions for their respective football positions. This allowed the players to increase their knowledge and skills.
This entire endeavor has paid huge dividends, as the Tigers are currently ranked 7th in Division 4 football in the AP Writers’ poll in Michigan. The team is off to their first 3-0 start to a season since 1985. And it’s not over – there are additional funds from the fundraiser to allow the team to visit other colleges later this school year.
As a couple who has dedicated their lives to exemplifying Origami Owl’s mission to be a Force For Good, Lynn and Dale, are thrilled to have been a part of making this powerful experience possible. And as for us at Origami Owl, we couldn’t be more proud of their willingness to rally the community behind the team. Go Tigers!
Click here to see news coverage of the Benton Harbor High Tigers’ college tour fundraiser.