Kelsey Reynolds and Brittany Hrynko prepare to deliver toys to a classroom at Saint Vincent de Paul
Dec. 24, 2013
CHICAGO – Welcome to a real-life “Toy Story,” one that warms the heart on a cold winter’s night and comes just in time for the Christmas season.
Only, instead of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Jessie, this version stars Doug Bruno and the DePaul women’s basketball team.
Ninety minutes after the Blue Demons had defeated Dartmouth on the Dec. 16 Field Trip Day game in front of enthusiastic school children at McGrath-Phillips Arena, they gathered at the St. Vincent dePaul Center on Webster and Halsted to brighten up the holiday season for 160 preschool children.
Along with members of the DePaul dance and cheer teams, the women’s basketball players passed out toys and games to children who might not have anything to open up on Christmas morning.
It was a heartwarming conclusion to a toy drive organized by women’s basketball with Blue Demon fans donating a huge supply of toys and games. Christmas presents are also being sent to children and families who suffered through the devastating Nov. 17 tornadoes in central Illinois.
Chanise Jenkins, Brittany Hrynko, Megan Rogowski and their teammates passed out gifts like they pass around a basketball on the court---it’s all the same to them. In both cases, they are sharing the joys of giving.
Watching the expressions on the Blue Demons’ faces as they handed out toys and chatted with the little kids, it’s no wonder they had an unheard of 26 assists on 30 baskets in a 73-66 victory over Washington Dec. 20 at the Duel in the Desert Tournament in Las Vegas.
“This was so great to come here and get all these smiles and thank-you’s from all the kids,” Jenkins said. “It’s a good feeling to know you can do something that will help other people and have an effect on their lives.
“You’re used to having the things you always wanted. I can’t imagine growing up and not getting the things you want---especially at Christmas time.
“This is what Christmas is all about---sharing what you have with others.”
Players, spirit and dance squad members divided into groups of three and brought the gifts to class rooms. Jasmine Penny, Jenkins and Rogowski went to Room 311 with Jenkins letting out a hearty “ho-ho-ho” while carrying a large sack of goodies over her shoulder.
One-by-one, the preschoolers were called by name and they excitedly reached into the sack to select a toy or game. They serenaded the Blue Demons with Christmas songs, and a youngster presented Jenkins with a thank-you card.
It was a scene re-enacted in class rooms throughout the three-story building.
“This toy drive was the idea of the women’s basketball program, and we were lucky enough to benefit from all this generosity,” said Katie Murphy, the Associate Director of Development and a Rogers Park neighbor of DePaul coach Doug Bruno. “Counting the preschoolers, we serve 450 kids from low-income communities throughout the city of Chicago. They qualify for our center through the IDHS Child Care Assistance Program.
“Children in the year-round, pre-kindergarten program receive high-quality day care that allows their parents to work and support their families. The kids want to know about the DePaul teams and would love to have them come out and shoot the ball around with them. It’s wonderful to have inspirational role models for them. Seeing young people like these basketball players doing good things is always inspiring.
“It’s the holiday season and a time to give. Lots of our families wouldn’t have gifts at Christmas if not for programs like this. I’d like to thank DePaul’s basketball players, cheerleaders and dancers who have helped our children have a brighter Christmas.”
Jenkins & Co. took another oversized sack of gifts to Room 314. This time, they were accompanied by Bruno and members of his staff including Jill Pizzotti, Lisa Ryckbosch, Candis Blankson, Bart Brooks and Michael Fahey. Bruno sat on a bench and playfully tapped a youngster on the shoulder several times before looking away. The kids sang Christmas carols to the players and coaches, and at one point, the players and coaches joined in.
As the Blue Demons were leaving, a five-year-old girl with her Candy Land game came up to Pizzotti and gave her a big thank-you hug.
“We do extracurricular activities like this a lot and enjoy giving back to the community,” said Maria DiPrizio, a junior on the dance team majoring in elementary education. “This is the first time we’ve done a toy drive, and it was great to collaborate with athletics.
“I loved seeing the smiling faces on the little kids. It’s the best feeling. Helping out with this toy drive and passing out the presents was fun.
“People at DePaul try to give back to the community as much as they can. DePaul teaches you to have more compassion and to really care about the world.”
Judging by the smile on his face, Bruno thoroughly enjoyed celebrating an early Christmas with the three, four and five-year-olds at the St. Vincent de Paul Center.
“This was a total team effort,” said Bruno, who guided the Blue Demons to the Duel in the Desert title over the weekend. “It was Jill Pizzotti’s idea. She had done a toy drive while coaching at St. Louis.
“Lisa Ryckbosch did a lot of work behind the scenes. Our players totally bought into the toy drive and our fans came through with so many donations of toys and games.
“It’s really about the players having an innate desire to serve. As coaches, we can make them perform community service, but these kids all want to serve. It’s what you’re supposed to do.
“I’m always so proud of what these young ladies are capable of doing---on and off the court.”