The New Mexico State University Aggies are a top mid-major program out of the WAC conference, feared for its potent and national record setting offense. Lead by Head Coach, Kathy Rodolph (16th season) and Associate Head Coach, Cat Heifner (15th season) the Aggies are accomplished both on and off the field. One of the cornerstones of Rodolph’s program is its approach to community service.
NMSU is located in Las Cruces, NM., the second largest city in New Mexico with an estimated population of just under 102,000. This population is made up of a highly diverse group of people that presents unique opportunities for the Aggies to get involved and have a measurable and lasting impact.
We talked to Coach Heifner to learn more about the Aggies’ vision for community service, the local community, and more.
Michael: Can you tell me a bit about the local community surrounding New Mexico State University?
Coach Heifner: Las Cruces is a very diverse community in all ways. It sits in the Mesilla Valley which is an agricultural hub for the southwest. It has also been ranked as one of the top retirement communities. We are also a complete college town. The University is the lifeblood of the community.
Michael: You’ve talked before about taking a “grass roots” approach to volunteering activities – could you discuss that a bit?
Coach Heifner: Well, the median income in our community is $39,000. Our service is not just an activity, it’s needed and impactful. We ask that each softball student athlete give 40 hours of service per year. We usually exceed that. They find associations or causes that they feel strongly about and coordinate the activities. Seniors track the hours and hold the team accountable for our goal. We feel this is important because it’s not just the coaching staff telling kids where to go. They invest their time in causes they are passionate about.
Michael: Can you tell me about Coach Kathy Rodolph’s and your approach to and philosophy on community service for your program?
Coach Heifner: Coach and I feel our student-athletes have the potential to impact young lives, the elderly, and the needy in our local community. Our belief is that we can maximize our platform of NCAA Division 1 athletics to help inspire our local community. We are especially focused on our work with young girls in the community. For some, English is their second language. For some, they will have to break the cycle of poverty. When they see strong, smart, talented, hardworking role models in our student-athletes, they also start to see themselves as such. For many of the girls, our kids might be the first females they’ve seen in this role. So it’s important to show them that girls from their community can grow into young women who can own their destiny.
Coach Rodolph is also a native New Mexican and she is passionate about showing girls what is possible. This is one way to do this.
So much of what is done in communities today is about how it “appears” or reflects on a program. We are more concerned with how it impacts our student athletes and the community.
Michael: What are some of your favorite volunteering activities your program participates in?
Coach Heifner: Well, anything impacting children and animals seems to capture most of our hearts. We give a lot of time to our local animal shelters. At one time we had to have a discussion because we were all adopting so many pets it looked like a dog park at our field on Saturdays! The girls volunteer to walk the dogs or pet sit.
Far and away, anything we do with children is our favorite though. The local elementary schools sponsor a Walk to School event through their respective neighborhoods once a month. We helped with that and everyone had a blast. We start out at a community center and walk several blocks through the community by grade. Each of our girls held hands, sang, danced, and chatted with a different age group of children. Some of our local police help escort the group through the neighborhood and when we get to the school our group walks them through the crosswalk and they all wave goodbye. It was really fun for everyone. We also volunteer time to read with the elementary classes. At Halloween we help with a community event where kids can safely trick or treat for candy. It’s a team favorite but I’m suspicious the motivation on this one is candy!
We also work with Special Olympics. We’ve had student-athletes create a food drive amongst the other athletic teams to donate 2000 pounds of food to our own Aggie Cupboard on campus. We’ve also helped out the Boys and Girls club locally. One year we helped local elementary school teachers move their classrooms after a renovation to their facility. I’m sure I’m forgetting something.
Last year we helped the Lions Club build handicap ramps for disabled veterans. The girls learned how to use power tools …a bit scary but these aren’t cameo appearances. This is real help.
But by far and away, our favorite event is coming up this holiday season.
We participate in “Dress a Child”. Locally this program is interesting because chain department stores sponsor vouchers for needy kids to get $150 in clothing. Our girls walk each child through the store and help them make choices and tally up the tab. Often this might be the only new clothes the kids get this year. For some, it might be the first new clothes or shoes they’ve ever gotten.
Coach Rodolph and I have made community service a priority from the time we arrived at New Mexico State 16 years ago. We knew how impactful role models can be for children and as a way to reach out and say thank you for all the community does for our program.
Walk to school with Mesilla Park Elementary has us feeling like: pic.twitter.com/0I2T8TTUoN
— NM State Softball (@NMStateSoftball) October 11, 2018