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Word from Jay Jacobs

May 9, 2017

Tigers Give Back. That is a perfect descriptor for Auburn people. It says in three very simple words what it means to be part of the Auburn Family.

Tigers Give Back

The past few months have reminded me just how important it is to lead with our hearts. From the $5 million lead gift from the Raymond Harbert Family to the Tiger Giving Day goal for Athletics where enough money was raised to fund five postgraduate internships for our student-athletes. This is what makes Auburn such a special place. The Auburn Family always gives back.

On the Friday before A-Day, Mustapha Heron of our Men's Basketball team joined me at my Strategic Advisory Committee meeting.

Mustapha Heron excels on and off the court
Mustapha Heron excels on and off the court.

Mustapha is an impressive young man who does great community service work behind the scenes that most Auburn fans are not aware of. Mustapha created the Mustapha Heron Skills Academy and Reading Program for students at his high school and surrounding schools in Connecticut. I invite you to click on the link below to learn more about his incredible story.

On April 19th, Auburn held the ninth annual Tigers Give Back community service day

On April 19th, we held our ninth annual Tigers Give Back community service day. We were involved in a range of projects including Coach Gus Malzahn and seniors Tray Matthews and Austin Golson visiting patients at East Alabama Medical Center.

Head Football Coach Gus Malzahn and his wife Kristi visit patients at East Alabama Medical Center
Head Football Coach Gus Malzahn and his wife Kristi visit patients at East Alabama Medical Center. Tray Matthews visits patients at East Alabama Medical Center on Tigers Give Back day
Auburn senior Tray Matthews visits patients at East Alabama Medical Center on Tigers Give Back day.

Equestrian coach Greg Williams led a 20-person team that worked on trails at Chewacla State Park while our basketball coaches visited patients at the VA Medical Center in Tuskegee. Click here to read more on that story.

Most recently, we provided support for the Chicken Salad Chick Foundation and their second Music & Miracles Superfest concert. Stacy Brown and her late husband Kevin established the Chicken Salad Chick Foundation in June of 2014. As the founders of Chicken Salad Chick, they knew they would have the opportunity to positively affect many lives. The foundation focuses on two initiatives, fighting cancer and feeding the hungry. In addition to funding cancer research programs, the foundation works to impact community food related charities and enhance the patient experience in local cancer centers. Music and Miracles is all about big dreams, high hopes, and tremendous impact.

Cancer and hunger are causes that are a focus of Auburn Athletics as well. As you know, Bruce Pearl is a great champion for cancer care through his AUTLIVE program.

Auburn student and cancer survivor Blake Fabiani
Auburn student and cancer survivor Blake Fabiani.

Cancer is an insidious disease. But, through such adversity we also hear inspirational stories like that of Auburn student Blake Fabiani, who is back in school and doing great after missing two semesters of school to fight cancer at the Mayo Clinic. Read more here.

Several years ago, Auburn Athletics made a commitment to help end child hunger in Alabama. As a foster parent, I knew first-hand that children were going hungry within 15 minutes of where I live. I also knew that many student-athletes arrive at Auburn without the support and necessities that every child needs and deserves, such as ample food and adequate housing. The End Child Hunger in Alabama initiative is succeeding because of many caring partners, including the Jason Dufner Foundation, which is dedicated to ending child hunger in Lee County. Jason lives his life with a belief that those who are able should assist the less fortunate in their time of need. Jason's 'Weekend Backpack of Food' program has been a great hands-on way for Auburn Athletics to get involved. Each week, Auburn student-athletes and Athletics staff members come together at Auburn Arena to pack backpacks with food. In 2016, Auburn student-athletes filled and delivered more than 56,000 bags of weekend food for children who would have otherwise gone hungry.

Members of the Men's Basketball team pack bags of food to help End Child Hunger in Alabama
Members of the Men's Basketball team pack bags of food to help End Child Hunger in Alabama.

However, what is most rewarding is to see what Athletics staff members initiate on their own. This truly speaks to the character of our people. For example, Clint Myers and Auburn's softball program started an initiative called, "Strike Out Hunger," collecting more than 7,000 pounds of food donated by generous fans during the 2016 season and another 4,215 pounds of food gathered so far in 2017. Coach Graba and Auburn gymnastics also started a donation program called, "Bring Three and Get in Free."

Beyond these initiatives, our student-athletes provide over 3,000 hours of volunteer support each year.

What we need to remember is that we are not just preparing our student-athletes for the next competition, but for a lifetime of success and leadership. Our commitment is to use the power of athletics to create an expanded culture of winning where the concept of team refers not only to sports, but also to work together for the greater good of all humankind.

Let me assure you, being a student-athlete isn't easy. Practices, mandatory study sessions, competition, overnight travel, and community service. Yet they endure and excel.

In the classroom, they are achieving at record levels. An average cumulative GPA of 3.17 is the highest in program history. 40% of our student-athletes are on track to graduate with honors.

Auburn was ranked #3 in terms of football players participating in a bowl game with a diploma in hand
Auburn was ranked #3 in terms of football players participating in a bowl game with a diploma in hand.

That being said, please do not underestimate the pressure that our student-athletes feel every day to excel at their sport and to live up to the expectations of our fans.

You may not be aware, but we have two full-time psychologists on staff. In this academic year alone, from August 2016 to now, our psychologists have seen 267 student-athletes for a total of 987 sessions. The pressure to win on the field and in the classroom is intense. The impact of social media, where these same student-athletes are subject to an array of criticism, makes it vital that we provide resources to meet their mental health needs. These are 18 to 21-year-old men and women who for the most part do things the right way and to the very best of their ability every day. They inspire me. I promise you all that I will never let them down.

Baseball team celebrates a walk-off home run by Conor Davis.
Baseball team celebrates a walk-off home run by Conor Davis.

At the end of the day, winning is our focus. We are relentless in this regard. Serving the greater good is not in conflict with this goal. In fact, I would argue that serving the greater good is essential to winning. It is in keeping with our mission of preparing young men and women for successful lives. To become an Auburn Man or an Auburn Woman. We can easily tell ourselves that we do not need any distractions or that it is not the right time to get involved in anything else. However, when that thought occurs I am reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "The time is always right to do what is right."

Like we read in Scripture, "From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

God Bless and War Eagle!

Jay Jacobs

You can also follow me on Twitter at @jayjacobsauad.

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