BTN LiveBIG: Minnesota's M.A.G.I.C. bus

Multitudes of people are familiar with the song “Magic Bus” made famous by The Who back in 1968. Flash forward to today because there’s a new M.A.G.I.C. Bus in town and it’s time for our generation to learn about University of Minnesota’s Maroon And Gold Impacting the Community! (M.A.G.I.C.) Bus. These Gopher student athletes are all about giving back to the community that supports them in a Big Ten way.

Is there a recipe to the awe-inspiring success this school has, to get more than 84% of its student-athletes participating in charity events?  On top of the hours one devotes to being a full time college student, they add a minimum of 20 hours a week devoted to training, then throw in the spice of traveling with your team to and from different states.  The Gophers then add their own unique ingredient.  Making time for others.

A huge part of the magic comes from Anissa Lightner, Assistant Director of Student-Athlete Development.  She probably owns more maroon and gold than the colors of her own alma mater during the 13 years she’s been with the program.   She drives the bus: literally, and figuratively.

How do they manage to get such a high percentage of student athlete support? “We try to make it as easy and flexible as possible with our on-line system. A weekly message goes out to all of the students-athletes. The most impressive thing about this all is knowing that the students have such a limited time while being committed to balancing academics and athletics, yet they make the time to volunteer.” Anissa said.

The website Anissa created allows students to view upcoming events, click on links to learn more, see whose attending, how many volunteers are needed, etc.  “Practices can change and group projects come up.  It’s the flexibility on everyone’s part that makes this work.” Anissa believes.   “Students can book in May for something going on next December or sometimes hitch a ride the day of depending on their schedules.”

In fact, it was the website that first got Champion Volunteer, Katherine Windsor involved.  After her first few experiences she quickly realized she loved the gift of giving. “I started going out into the community much more frequently, sometimes twice a week. There is something about giving back that is so viral and contagious that you just want to keep doing it.”

Windsor explained, “The crazy thing about giving back is that you get so much more out of it than what you are putting in. It’s this sense of fulfillment I haven’t experienced anywhere else . . . Through my experience of giving back, I have learned a lot about the power of investing in others. I didn’t have to do anything special or out of the ordinary, I just had to be me. I have learned that I have a passion for helping others see their potential, and through this discovered my calling to be a teacher.”

Windsor’s favorite events are the hospital visits to Ampltaz Children’s Hospital and the Hope Day Festival. “I have had the pleasure of helping to organize Hope Day and the whole process is incredibly enjoyable. Not only did I get to work on applicable skills to take out into the work force, but I got to plan an extremely fun carnival-like day for a ton of kids who deserve it.”

“The organization provides families with a child who suffers from life threatening illnesses with events to attend in order to inspire hope for the future. It gives them something fun to look forward to, rather than dwell on treatments and hospital stays. The event is a total blast. Watching those kids play with their siblings and other kids at different stations and having all of the gopher athletes there to interact with is just awesome.”

Football player and Champion Volunteer Chris Hawthorne found a pocket of free time that changed his life.  “To be honest, the first time I volunteered in the MAGIC Program here at the “U” was when I had a little free time one of my first few weeks here on campus and, instead of making the 20 minute walk back to my dorm, I chose to take a chance and volunteer.”

Hawthorne believes he has learned so much from his experiences and he feels fortunate to have had the opportunities to do everything from speaking, reading, and playing with young children, to feeding the poor, giving tours and spending time every week visiting the local children’s hospital.

“I found that connecting with children through visiting with them and genuinely caring about them makes a difference in their lives. The other thing that I learned was that I have a pretty special platform as a student-athlete and with that platform, I can do with it as little or as much as I want. I chose to challenge myself to see how big an impact I could make on our athletic department, our school, and our community.”

After his first visit to the Amplatz Children’s Hospital, Hawthorne noticed the great work the doctors did.  “Once I saw how much hope the facility provided families and children, once I saw the impact that I had simply my making a child smile, I understood that going to school and playing football were the least of my responsibilities. . .  I said at our awards banquet that our time here as student-athletes won’t be judged on how many points we score or how many A’s we make, rather, it will be judged on how many people we impact.”

Due to the success of the website, Lightner can tell you exactly what the more than 200 events were for this school year.  If she’s the driver she definitely has a great personal mechanic beside her in her assistant Andrew Doughty.  Together, they can tell you with complete certainty that between April 2013 and April 2014, the total number of hours logged by student-athletes alone was 14, 924.7. By the way, that’s a 3000-hour increase from the year before.

“Students are passionate about giving. Through this program they learn responsibility, respect, and understand the importance of giving back to the community. We try to provide life lessons here.”

One student athlete was so interested when he was a freshman that he settled in, learned how the behind the scenes worked, and then went to Lightner’s department to tell her that he had 2 hours on Wednesday, and ask how he could best help. Anissa explained proudly, “It’s not mandatory but it’s our culture.  We’ve tried really hard to get everyone to volunteer at least 10 hours.  Our student athletes are simply passionate about giving back to the Twin Cities and the people who support them.”

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