WAXAHACHIE — This semester, a partnership with the Ellis County community's youth has been a key for both Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) and its women’s basketball team, which volunteers with the Waxahachie Boys & Girls Club at least once a week.

"It has been such a blessing to our ladies to be able to pour into these children's lives,” said Tiffany Phillips, the Lady Lions' head basketball coach. “We have learned so much from this experience and it has truly helped us as much or more than it has helped the kids and staff at the Boys and Girls club."

Phillips said the partnership was born through conversations throughout the summer with Captain Frankie Zuniga of the Salvation Army. While the latter was alawys open to accept open, willing and helpful hands, the former thought volunteering would be a perfect opportunity for her players to work one-on-one with the kids and affect the youth community positively.

Every Thursday four girls from the basketball team make the trip to the Boys & Girls Club — including senior Charity Page who has volunteered multiple times.

"I've looked forward to it every time we've had a chance to go," she said. "It didn't feel much like community service at all. It was more of an opportunity to reach out and influence kids who in the end, end up influencing us. They are filled with so much joy and pure enthusiasm that it can't help but brighten your day.”

Every visit is different.

Sometimes children need help with homework and on some visits they play games or work on art projects. One of the most successful visits was when SAGU hosted a basketball skills clinic for the girls who wanted to learn more about basketball.

“Turns out that nearly every girl there wanted to participate and it was a huge hit. Even some of the boys wanted to get in on the action,” Phillips said.

Since beginning the whim, start-up activity, the basketball clinic has taken on a life of its own. Zuniga said the Lady Lions have single-handedly sparked interest in the game of basketball for many of the kids and through the partnership he has seen a level of excitement from the girls that wasn't there before that leads them to want to play basketball now rather than later.

"We see them excited — not just sitting in the gym and hanging out — and rushing for the basketballs so they too can play," he said. "They love every moment of their time with the team, in fact, there have been many times where a girl would be picked up early and wouldn't want to leave.”

Though the basketball season is underway and the visits have changed a little — instead of volunteering Thursday (game day), they visit on Monday — Zuniga and the Salvation Army are brainstorming other ways for sports teams to get involved after seeing the success of the basketball clinic. Regardless of the time constraints and educational requirements placed on collegiate student-athletes college athlete, Phillips said she and her team doesn't want to give up the opportunity to serve."

“This new initiative sparked life into our program and interest in looking to see how we could use other groups in this same way in the future," Zuniga continued. "It was exciting to see the relationships amongst the players and the club members change and grow as they continued from week to week."

“Our kids are excited every time the players walk thru the door," a Boys & Girls Club instructor and coach added. "The players give the kids an opportunity to see what possibilities there are in the future of not just learning basketball skill, but also the possibility of educational opportunities.”