CHARLESTON (WCIA) — The Eastern Illinois football team is putting smiles on kids’ faces this summer by giving back. The Panthers are volunteering at the Charleston Day Camp, in a weekly event they’ve labeled ‘Lunch with a Panther.’
“They really like it they enjoy it, they come out here and play football with us,” EIU junior defensive back Mark Williams said. “They run around with us, we play water games and throw water balloons. It’s a fun time, you don’t really think about it as community service.”
EIU offensive lineman Cole Hoover is involved as an employee with the day camp and the special education major spends most of his time with Liam, a camper he had an instant connection with.
“I talk about not just Liam but I talk about the whole camp,” Hoover said. “I’m always saying, ‘This kid did this today, this kid did that and it was super funny,’ so for them to see it and meet those kids, it’s just awesome.”
“He’s willing to take time out of his busy schedule to give back to the community and maybe it is his job, but he’s using his skills he’s learned at Eastern,” Charleston Day Camp supervisor Megan Henness said. “The involvement with the Eastern football team has really been appreciated and noticed.”
This is the football team’s first year doing ‘Lunch with a Panther’, it’s one of their many community service initiatives they’ve been a part of this summer, all lead by first year head coach Adam Cushing. It’s his mission to establish a new culture for the team.
“We’re trying to be great in the classroom, we want to give back to the community, we want to be a really productive member of the community, then that’s going to translate to the field,” Cushing said. “It’s that habit of being great at everything, and truly embracing and giving back to where we’re from.”
“In past years we haven’t done stuff like this, so now it’s getting the community more involved and we might see more people at the games,” Williams added.
The Panthers have made strides off the field this summer, recording the highest GPA in program history, but the true test will come when they get back on the field for training camp starting Aug. 1.