This is a busy time of year for University of Utah athletes as many have full days training, competing and studying.
But busy schedules didn't mean the athletes didn't have time to spread some holiday cheer as Utah's athletic teams have pooled their resources and competitiveness to donate Christmas gifts to The Haven, a nonprofit organization in Salt Lake City that provides treatment and transitional housing for men and women struggling with substance abuse.
Following the lead of the officers on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, U. of U. athletes raised enough money to buy more than 80 gifts for the estimated 150 children in the care of The Haven.
It was a humbling and satisfying experience, some of the athletes involved said.
Destanae Howerton-Davis, a shot putter for the Utes in addition to competing in other events, said knowing the athletes were raising money for children made it that much more special.
"I've always had a soft spot for kids and I want to be a pediatrics physical therapist so to be able to help them out during the holiday season meant a lot," she said. "We got to tour the facility and see how they lived and meet some of the case managers so it was a good experience and cool program."
Howerton-Davis said growing up in Las Vegas, a town known for its glitz and glamour, left her with a sense of wanting more connections with friends and family. She saw that in the work of The Haven, she said.
"It's good to see how people want to help each other," she said.
The help couldn't have come at a better time, said Wendy Evanoff, the Haven's director. She and her staff were having a meeting discussing how they were going to afford presents for all the children when they were notified of the athletes' plan.
"It was like your prayers are answered," she said. "They donated more than half of what we needed so it was a big deal. We have a huge facility and since we are nonprofit we rely on donations so it's huge when people can help us with the costs."
The presents will be given to the children at the organization's Christmas party, which serves about 500 people, Evanoff said.
"It's a big undertaking for us and a challenge to make sure we have enough presents for Santa so they helped tremendously," she said.
"To get the whole team involved and help people who may not be as fortunate as we are was really rewarding," said Ben Mordini, co-vice president of SAAC and a senior pitcher for the Utes. "Little contributions from a lot of people can make a significant difference for people in need and the way we pulled together meant a whole lot more."
The Utes have had fundraisers in the past with senior athletic director Mary Bowman overseeing many of them. But the athletes really embraced this one, academic adviser Taryn Horner said.
"This project hit home for them," she said. "A lot of the parents there can't get jobs or only receive minimal pay, so for our kids to [get] $5 or $10 each so a kid could have a Christmas wasn't a lot. This was a really good way for them to help."
Once all the money was gathered, athletes such as gymnast Corrie Lothrop went shopping for toys for the children.
"It was so hard because you go into the stores and you see so many things you want to buy," she said. "We don't have a lot of money. We are still college students, but it was really good knowing we could help out."
About The Haven
The Haven provides treatment and transitional housing for women and men struggling with substance abuse. Since it is a nonprofit, it relies on donations to help the more than 500 people under its care.
The Haven accepts donations year-round. Contact The Haven at 801-533-0070 or at http://www.havenhelps.com. The Haven is located at
974 E. South Temple.