FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – While the NAU Athletics Department strives to inspire the greater Northern Arizona region, the Lumberjacks first and foremost aim to make a difference right here in Flagstaff. Within a community that continues to back the 'Jacks, it is only right that NAU Athletics gives back to a town that is not only home to former Lumberjacks, but future generations as well.
The fall 2016 semester was a monumental one for the department as it made its biggest strides with Flagstaff's youth through its ever-growing partnership with the Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD). At the heart of the partnership was the Lumberjacks C.A.R.E. Program, the department's flagship youth initiative focusing on four areas: character, academics, responsibility and exercise.
"FUSD was approached a few years ago (by NAU Athletics) in the hopes of seeing how the two education entities could work together," said Karin Eberhard, FUSD's District Relations Coordinator. "The result of the conversations was an amazing partnership that allows our students to meet the NAU student-athletes and hear their message of success both academically and in achieving their goals."
The campaign started in 2014 with both FUSD and Fit Kids of Arizona serving as the first two strategic partners in developing a year-long program with NAU Athletics. The purpose of the partnership was to develop an avenue for the department and its student-athletes to inspire the Flagstaff youth by being positive peers in the community.
That goal has never wavered and the Lumberjacks C.A.R.E. program reached its highest peak yet in the fall by impacting more than 4,500 elementary-aged students in FUSD and nearly 9,000 kids in the entire district.
An important part of the program was the start of school assemblies with student-athletes, NAU's cheer and dance squads as well as Louie the Lumberjack visiting elementary schools to speak about the program's four core areas. A total of five assemblies were completed between September and December at Cromer, Sechrist, Leupp, Thomas and Knoles Elementary Schools within the Flagstaff Unified School District. The assemblies even expanded out to Haven Montessori School and Mountain Charter School after word spread throughout the community bringing NAU's total to seven assemblies.
In addition, NAU Athletics continued a few annual traditions including visits to schools during Red Ribbon Week, held from Oct. 23-29 of last year, to spread the message of saying no to drugs and alcohol. A district-wide Red Link pledge was constructed and displayed at both a volleyball match and a football game. Then there was the women's basketball team's fourth annual Field Trip Day game in December which brought 1,350 students to the Skydome – more than double of last year's student participation.
All schools were given "Lumberjack Achievement Awards" allowing each class to award students for their achievements in certain subjects. Furthermore, the fun continued on the Northern Arizona University campus as all FUSD/Fit Kids youth was offered free admission at designated home events in the fall to allow them to see their favorite Lumberjacks up close in action.
"This partnership is of great benefit to the students of FUSD," Eberhard said. "We strive to educate our students to achieve their individual goals whatever they might be and interacting with NAU's student-athletes gives them encouragement to 'be just like them.' The continuation and expansion (with NAU Athletics) has become a such a wonderful partnership."
Programming continues to expand to other schools in Flagstaff. With every assembly and every school visit, NAU Athletics touches more and more lives. The message is clear: the Lumberjacks C.A.R.E.
Plus, a future Lumberjack to star in the blue & gold might be seated in those schools, waiting to be inspired.