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Basketball player’s project scores big for young patients

Jan. 17, 2013, 8:50 AM

VU basketball player Gabby Smith has organized a drive to collect activity items for children waiting for outpatient appointments at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. (photo by Michael Scholl)

For Gabby Smith, a senior on the Vanderbilt University Women’s basketball team, a box of crayons is more than a carton of colored wax sticks used to scribble on paper.

The crayons represent a smile, a moment for a child to forget they’re at a doctor’s appointment. One day a week, Smith volunteers at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt handing out items from an activity cart — coloring books, crayons, books, playing cards, puzzles, etc. — to families and children waiting for outpatient appointments in the Doctor’s Office Tower.

Smith has parlayed her experience into an opportunity for the women’s basketball team to give back by collecting donations at the team’s six remaining home games. Suggested donations include Crayola crayons (packs of eight), small Legos, picture board books for young children, Play-Doh, infant toys, Thomas the Train toys, I-Spy Books, UNO Cards and individual craft kits.

“The kids get so excited about the smallest things, like handing them two pieces of paper from a coloring book and three crayons. A box of crayons — it’s the most popular item on the cart. What kid doesn’t like to color?” asked Smith. “You can tell it also really helps the parents while they are waiting for the appointment.”

For five years, the women’s team has designated one cause or organization to support for a senior project. Often, the cause selected is one close to a senior player’s heart.

“They try and find a special tie-in with one of the seniors,” said Allison Bradley, assistant director of sales and marketing for Vanderbilt University Student Athletics. “Children’s Hospital seemed like a natural tie-in with Gabby.”

Causes supported previously include projects on Lyme disease, pancreatic cancer and child hunger.

Donation stations will be set up at Memorial Gymnasium during the women’s basketball team’s six remaining home games. (photo by John Russell)

For Smith, Children’s Hospital was a fitting choice for the project, and she saw the need for more crayons among other activities — everyday items that are simple, but meaningful to the children and families who use them.

“Gabby makes a difference in the lives of children and their families every week when she volunteers. We are so grateful to her for being a special part of the Children’s Hospital family,” said Stephanie Van Dyke, director of Volunteer Services at Children’s Hospital.

“We are equally thankful that Gabby had the brilliant idea of including the women’s basketball team and their community of supporters in the great work that volunteers do at Children’s Hospital. It is wonderful to see the Children’s Hospital, the University, the Athletic Department and our community coming together to support children and their families in such a meaningful way.”

The next women’s home game is 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 24, against Tennessee. Donation drop boxes will be located at each of the entrances to Memorial Gymnasium. Items should be new and unwrapped.

Information booths staffed with Children’s Hospital representatives will be posted at north and southeast entrances.

At the final home game on Feb. 28 against Auburn, free T-shirts and wristbands will be handed out to fans on a first-come, first-serve basis. The players also will suit up in a special warm up shirt in support of Children’s Hospital.

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