Community service benefiting everyone involved

The Santa Barbara Mermaid Women’s Rugby Club jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with the Santa Barbara United Way Fun in the Sun program to teach the values and benefits of rugby.

LAFAYETTE, CO - America's favorite next-door neighbor, Mr. Rogers, often expressed how Play is serious learning for children. This same ideology is what aligned the Santa Barba United Way and Santa Barbara Mermaid Women's Rugby Club to provide rugby clinics to underserved children in the area.

The Santa Barbara Mermaid Women's Rugby Club is a SoCal Women's Division II Rugby Team. Similar to most rugby players, the Mermaids feel it is important to share the impact rugby can have on an individual's life - especially a child's life. With that, the club jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with the Santa Barbara United Way Fun in the Sun program (FITS program).

FITS is a 6-week summer learning program for at-risk children and families in Santa Barbara. It is intended to bridge the learning gap that occurs during the summer months for children that may not have access to activities that keep them engaged in learning.

One of the recent additions to the summer program was rugby. "It was fortuitous how the relationship came about," said Courtney Applewhite, Mermaid Recruitment, and Social Media Chair. "But, in the end, all of the things that FITS program tries to teach line up with rugby quite nicely." 

During the FITS program, the Mermaids travel to five different schools over the course of six weeks, visiting each school twice. "While there, we do outdoor rugby clinics - it is a way to get students moving, a way to introduce them to rugby and ultimately it's a way to bring some of these kids into the rugby community," Applewhite explained.

She further shared her favorite parts about volunteering, "You start to see these kids understand the rules of the game and it makes you happy. It is just a lot of fun to see the kids realize what rugby is all about."

The children are not the only ones benefiting from this service project. As a relatively new club, only in their fourth year of having been reinstated, members of the club are finding that the service work is improving their camaraderie and overall sense of team.

"Doing these extra activities gives our team a chance to develop a real deep connection with one another. When we attend these service activities, we don't have the pressure of practice. Therefore, we can get to know our teammates on a more personal level rather than on a rugby level" Applewhite said.

Additionally, Applewhite found that this service work provides a training tool for players to gain confidence in their leadership and coaching skills. She explained how some of the players have a difficult time coming out of their shells, but volunteering has helped those players find the confidence to hone in those skills.

The Santa Barbara Mermaid Women's Rugby Club plans to continue to be involved with service projects in their area. "It is a great opportunity to be involved with the community and share the benefits of rugby" Applewhite concluded.

Is your club or community doing something to grow the game in the US? Please let us know. Contact Ashley Brooks at abrooks@usarugby.org.