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Volleyball Fundraiser Serves Up Funds for Local Community Group

Event Helps UML Students Mentor Burmese Refugees

a volleyball player taps the ball over the net Photo by Tory Germann
A student taps the ball over the net during a fundraising volleyball tournament for the Say Da Nar Community Development Center.

By David Perry

Ardeth Thawnghmung began “tapping people on the shoulder” in late October.

“What are you doing April 2?” the Political Science Department chair would ask colleagues and students.

Of course, it was a long way off. They didn’t really know.

She did.

On a cold Sunday morning at the Campus Recreation Center, Thawnghmung watched a gym full of folks play volleyball all day to raise funds for a new mentoring program at the Say Da Nar Community Development Center in Lowell. Thawnghmung, who is Burmese, is the president of the center, which serves the city’s growing Burmese population (Say Da Nar means “good will” in Burmese). It is run by volunteers, including several UMass Lowell students and alumni.

The event drew players from the community in addition to faculty and student players. Teams represented the urban farmers at Mill City Grows, the International Institute of New England, the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association and the African Community Center. The 14 teams each paid $100 to participate. 

In the end, the team Bump Set Win topped Got Rice? to earn the title.

A “thrilled” Thawnghmung estimates the event raised just under $3,000 for the mentoring program. UML students will be involved as mentors, working with Burmese refugee students who are struggling to fit in while facing the challenges of academics and social issues in middle and high schools.

Participants were impressed with the success of the first-time event.

“Getting the community together is always a good thing,” said Lowell High School student Dalina Tur of the CMAA team. “It’s fun, too. And it’s something people play in parks all over the world.” 

“It’s an amazing way to build community through sport to benefit an afterschool program,” said Monica Galizzi, chair of the Economics Department, as she watched the UMass faculty play Mill City Grows. “It’s also a way of having university engagement with the community. It’s such a great idea, bringing people with different levels of experience and backgrounds together.

“It is,” she added as a faculty player set up a teammate with a pass, “a language that everybody understands.”

The faculty posted an interdisciplinary team, drawing players from the realms of economics, computer science, psychology, engineering, English and political science.  Members of the River Hawks Division I volleyball team refereed the contests.

Two matches went on simultaneously in one half of the gym while, on the other side of a scrim, teams did prematch warm ups. 

Emily Fritz ’06 (peace and conflict studies) took donations at the door and handed out programs. She worked at Say Da Nar from 2012 to 2015 and is now working toward her master’s in public administration at the university. Nikki Lynch ’14 (political science) also worked at Say Da Nar, but now sits on the center’s board of directors. She served as the fundraiser’s master of ceremonies.

Thawnghmung got the idea to use volleyball as a fundraiser because her 16-year-old daughter plays on the Lowell High School team. 

“I follow her and watch her play and enjoy the sport so much,” she said. “And I figured, why can’t we use it as a fun way to do something to help?”

Dave Lewis, a professor in the Manning School of Business, heeded the call.

“Well, I played 50 years ago in high school,” he said with a chuckle after the first game. “I passed the ball the first time and fell on my behind. That reminded me how long it’s been. I’ll probably feel that tomorrow. But it was worth it.”