NUTLEY, NJ — While many coaches focus solely on the academic and athletic success of their athletes, JD Vick strives to build the character of his students with annual summer service trips. Vick, who coaches the freshman football, baseball and boys’ basketball teams at Nutley High School, took his students on an excursion to Gatlinburg, Tenn., from July 23 to 29, to help local families rebuild after a November forest fire.
“It is very important that we are able to teach our young men to be men of integrity and teach them the importance of hard work. We believe that the greatest quality of a leader is to be a servant,” said Vick.
Vick led his first trip in 2011 to his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., in response to a tornado that devastated that area. He and his team returned to the city during the next two summers to work with Habitat for Humanity. They expanded their efforts to an orphanage in Haiti in 2014; repaired homes for poor families in Alderson, W. Va., in 2015; and worked with Lakota Indians on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota last summer.
The team has nearly doubled in size since the first service trip, with 21 students accompanying Vick to Gatlinburg. The volunteers are not only student athletes, but also members of the Nutley High School Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, whose mission is to “see the world impacted for Jesus Christ though the influence of coaches and athletes,” according to the organization’s website. The group meets once a week throughout the year to plan and fundraise for their summer service trips.
“The guys did great. They complained not one time,” said Vick of his student-athlete volunteers. “They really represented Nutley well with the way the conducted themselves.”
The volunteers and three chaperones stayed at a church in Gatlinburg and commuted daily to the worksite to help rebuild homes destroyed by the fire. Families involved in the mission group accompanied their children on the trip and volunteered to prepare and order meals for the students.
During a typical day, students woke up early to pack their lunches and get to the worksite around 8:30 a.m., working till 4 p.m. They enjoyed their spare time by visiting tourist attractions around the city, walking downtown, visiting local amusement parks, horseback riding and visiting the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Despite the challenges of waking early and performing tasks requiring physical strength, the student athletes say they had a great time, with many already looking forward to next year’s service trip with their coach.
“The hardest part was waking up early and the work wasn’t easy,” student Blayke Alvarez said, adding that “not everything is about me. We’re here to help each other and that is a great thing to do.”
Many of Blayke’s peers expressed similar sentiments.
“It made us see a different part of life,” Anthony Fabiano said of the trip, noting that the best part was “making a difference in someone’s life, and seeing homeowners drive by and say ‘thank you.’”