Editor’s Note: Jessica Velez is a magazine media major within the CCIM and is involved with Ball Bearings Magazine
When Lucas Borrow arrived at Ball State in 2020, he found himself immersed in a community that hardly resembled his distant home. Borrow hails from Newcastle, New South Wales — a sun-soaked beach oasis located along Australia’s southeastern coast that is a 9,200-mile trek from Muncie. Making the journey to East Central Indiana included a complex cultural adjustment, which he now looks back on fondly.
“It's definitely been a process,” said Borrow.“There were definitely some things at the very beginning that I kind of got confused on. Some of the slang over here is a little bit difficult to back home, and vice versa. So, some things that I've said over here, people have just looked at me weird.”
Despite some initial barriers, the now senior punter’s transition to life in a faraway continent was seamless, thanks to help from local figures — both on the football team and in the community. To repay the favor, the Australian has chosen to devote his time to bettering the Muncie community.
“They've kind of taken me in, so I feel like I need to give back as much as I can,” Borrow said.
Borrow is just one of many Ball State student-athletes who have tirelessly served in the local area as difference-makers in the community. Many Cardinals athletic programs have already completed service projects early in the 2023-2024 school year, extending a long legacy of student-athlete volunteer contributions.
“Whatever we can do to put a smile on their face.”
During the team’s annual fall training camp this August, Ball State football completed a day of service across Delaware County and nearby communities. The team, split into several groups, was dispersed throughout a half-dozen local nonprofits, with each unit assigned to a specific service task.
Some groups sorted and bagged food at Second Helpings, an Indianapolis-based pantry, while others assisted in Habitat for Humanity’s efforts. Qian Magwood, a redshirt sophomore wide receiver, expressed his passion for service, even amidst the trials of preseason training.
“We got fall camp, it's hot, we're sweating, [and] we're trying to get ready for the season,” Magwood said. “But just taking that small hour, hour and a half to just dedicate to someone else's life — it's just everything for me.”
Borrow participated in this year’s service project alongside his teammates, a program tradition that has yielded his deepest ties to the community. In 2021, his second year in Muncie, the special teams standout was assigned to volunteer at Hillcroft (a local nonprofit that provides services to those with disabilities).
Immediately, Borrow connected with the Hillcroft community and sensed that his work with the organization would grow beyond that day.
“It was just really interesting to be able to make a relationship with them and see how their life is different to ours,” Borrow said. “But at the same time, [we were] just trying to make an impact and do whatever we can do to put a smile on their face.”
Since that fateful day two seasons ago, Borrow has partnered with starting kicker Carson Holmer to develop a name, image and likeness (NIL) deal to benefit Hillcroft. The initiative, known as “Kick for Hillcroft,” is a performance-based fundraiser that directs $3 for every made kick and $10 for every punt downed inside the 20-yard line to the organization’s efforts.
The duo’s goal is to raise $5,000 this season, and donations can be made via the program’s GoFundMe page.
Though Borrow’s service motivation stems from connections he made while at Ball State, Magwood attributes his desires to his upbringing. Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, he said his family benefited from government subsidies during his childhood, which now provides valuable perspective today.
“I didn't grow up with a ‘rags to riches’ story, but I definitely didn't have it all,” Magwood said. “That's big for me just knowing I was once in those shoes, and [I’m] blessed to have this opportunity to give back. It's just a humbling feeling.”
Both Borrow and Magwood expressed their intent to further their volunteer work once they leave Ball State, which they credit to the culture head coach Mike Neu instilled in the program.
“It's just building good habits because my end goal is to get to the NFL,” Magwood said. “I'll be better in a better situation financially to where I can maybe help out the same [people] or same organizations that I'm building relationships with right now.”
“This is not just ours.”
Tucked away in Alexandria — a quaint town located just a few miles west of the Madison County–Delaware County border — is a transitional home for women, known as Beauty for Ashes. The home, which is operated by Muncie Mission Ministries, welcomes women battling homelessness in the local area and provides a safe, accessible path to overcoming their life obstacles.
Members of the Ball State track and field and cross country programs volunteered at the facility Sept. 8 withCardinal runners, throwers and jumpers completing a number of duties around the home, like scrubbing baseboards and countertops and sorting donated clothes.
For many of the student-athletes, this was their first experience in a transitional facility. Exposure to rich perspectives found within the walls of Beauty for Ashes fostered growth among the athletes who volunteered that day.
Sophomore Carly Spletzer, a distance runner competing in track and field and cross country, described her team’s service project as an eye-opening outing.
“They don't have all the things that we have here,” Spletzer said. “It just puts things in perspective and makes you more grateful for the things that you do have.”
Junior Jessica Velez, a distance specialist who competes in both sports, echoed her teammate’s views. The Indianapolis native expressed that she felt “very blessed to be there” and described how her work at Beauty for Ashes has translated to a novel understanding of how the less fortunate truly live.
“I think it’s really easy for us to think that people don't want help, or they're not seeking a better life,” Velez said. “I think being able to be in that environment and [to] see that there are women that are really focused on giving themselves a better life and building one for themselves was a very different perspective.”
Neither Spletzer nor Velez calls Muncie home, though each of them expressed their sincere investment to impact their collegiate residence. The two runners viewed community service as an honor, and they highlighted the program’s service-centered culture as a key contributor to their attitudes.
“I think that [our coaches] didn't want us to just be a team that's only centered around Ball State,” Velez said. “They want us to actually be out in the community giving back to people, and I think that's really admirable and says a lot about their character.”
“We're all very grateful to be here and to have this opportunity, so coach [Adrian Wheatly] really just instilled in us that we always need to give back,” Spletzer said.
Beyond her coaches’ encouragement, Velez cited internal motivations to better the quality of life and place in Muncie. She views service as a means to gain community support at her team’s events and a route to improve a living, vibrant city.
“Sometimes people say it's like a college town or Muncie is just consumed by Ball State, but there are people that live here, and they built their lives here,” Velez said. “And it is our job as college students at Ball State to remember that this is not just ours.”
“It also belongs to everyone else that lives here,” she said. “I think it is very important to see that everything isn't about just us.”
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