This story is part of a twice-a-month series called Community Champions, which will feature Illinois FCS players making a difference in their communities. Have a story idea? Leave a comment below.
Just a few blocks north of Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale campus sits The Women’s Center.
It was created in 1972 as one of the first domestic violence centers in the country and supports victims of domestic violence and their families while providing resources to residents of eight local counties. The Women’s Center provides free, confidential services to residents in need of assistance at a critical time.
The organization is supported by donations and volunteers. Among those volunteers are numerous members of the SIU football program, who have made the center a featured part of their recent community volunteer efforts.
“I want to change people’s lives however I can,” junior running back D.J. Davis said. “It’s important how I treat people off the field. I like to say hi to people walking to class, holding the door for women, doing community service."
SIU head coach Nick Hill, who attended college in hopes of becoming a special education teacher, said the program’s partnership with The Women’s Center began over the summer when he emailed one of the center’s board members asking if his players could assist with a service project.
“She responded, ‘We need somebody desperately right now!’” Hill said. “They had hit a roadblock and had a bunch of work that needed to get taken care of right away. It was some heavy lifting and labor. I responded, ‘We’ll be there today.’ It was perfect timing.”
A group of Hill’s players tore down old bunk beds, removed old furniture, cleaned out several areas, painted and moved in new beds and other furniture.
From there, the team went a step further. Players collected canned goods to donate, and the Salukis’ end-of-summer scrimmage became a diaper drive to support The Women’s Center. The result was fans donating more than 2,000 diapers, which players delivered.
“It makes me feel good helping out the women who have gone through a tough time,” said redshirt freshman linebacker Luke Giegling, who was part of the diaper delivery. “They were really thankful for what we had done. We wanted them to know we had nothing but love and gratitude for them.”
For Giegling and Davis, The Women’s Center represents the best of what the community has to offer to its people.
“If it was my mother, sister, aunt or any family that needed help, it would be amazing for a community and a football team to be thinking about them,” he said.
Hill was raised in southern Illinois and considers the area home. He wants his players to feel the same when they come to school in Carbondale.
“If you leave here in four or five years and don’t make a difference in the town that you’re in, then you’ve wasted your time,” Hill said. “We have a good relationship with (The Women’s Center). We’re there if they need labor or to help raise awareness or whatever project. We’re all on board.”