As the saying goes, “In order to find yourself, you must lose yourself in the service of others.” This is exactly what the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) cheerleading squad represents. Located in Conway, Arkansas, the university’s cheer squad is known in their community for giving back. From philanthropic events to volunteering for Arkansas Children’s Hospital, coaches Ryan Salami and Kortlind Baker-Johnson strive for their athletes to understand the importance of community involvement.
Passion. Determination. Heart. It’s no secret that this winning combination (plus some serious hard work) is what makes this program a standout. Jordy Beth Beard, a fourth year veteran on the squad, commented, “Volunteering gives me an opportunity to give back to the community. You get to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself that helps raise awareness for a need in our community. The benefits of volunteering are endless – it teaches humility, teamwork, and leadership and demonstrates how diverse groups of individuals can come together for a common goal. I love knowing I can make a difference in someone’s life and in the community that I’m so proud to be apart of.” It’s this kind of attitude that truly makes the difference.
The Soaring Wings Marathon benefits Soaring Wings Ranch, a family and home that provides security, love, and hope to children who need a chance, through no fault of their own, for as long as they need it. Soaring Wings currently has four homes for boys and girls, ages 2-18, with the capacity to provide a home for up to 32 children. UCA cheer volunteers every year to be apart of this event in hopes of decreasing the number of children without a home and increasing the ability of Soaring Wings Ranch to continue their mission.
Kortlind Baker-Johnson, alumni and coach, has been involved in the UCA Spirit Program since 2010. Volunteering hours and hours over the years, Kortlind stresses the importance of the big picture, “As an athlete volunteering in the community, I knew I was getting the chance to be a part of something bigger than myself. Now as a coach, I believe it’s important to get our athletes active in our community for the same reason and more. These athletes are role models in our community, and the opportunity to help-out sets a good example for the little eyes watching that want to grow up to be like them. I’ve seen volunteer work open the eyes of so many athletes to different cultures, beliefs, and opportunities. I think the benefits of volunteering in the community are tremendous. It gives the athletes an opportunity to make connections, create new friendships, and gives athletes a sense of self worth and belonging.”
But that’s not all—UCA cheer collectively volunteers over 100 hours per year to the UCA volunteers on behalf of Arkansas Children’s Hospital through signature events including Tailgate for Tots, Phone-a-thon, and Freezin’ for a Reason 5K. Tiffany Black, the Associate Development Officer for Arkansas Children’s, expresses her gratitude for the time donated to such a great cause: “I love to see UCA cheer engaged and volunteering for Arkansas Children’s! Their generosity of time and true enthusiasm in local events brings a new level of excitement for the hospital. UCA cheer is helping fulfill the mission of Arkansas Children’s – Champion children by making them better today and healthier tomorrow.”
The passion, determination, and heart poured into these local organizations are second to none. To keep up with the UCA Bears throughout the year, follow them @uca_bears_cheer.