Volunteer and mission work helps two athletes better appreciate and serve others

May 15, 2018

by Julia Seeley

During the summer of 2017, Eastern Nazarene basketball teammates Andrew Mitchell and Cody Cook embarked on two separate journeys to help and invest in others.

Mitchell volunteered, for the fourth year in a row, at a camp in Flat Rock, NC, dedicated to those with special needs. During his first week there, a 35-year-old man with cerebral palsy and down syndrome became Mitchell’s “buddy” for the week.

Mitchell built a sturdy relationship with the man over the years even though the he is unable to speak. His buddy communicates using a device with buttons that produces words. One of Mitchell’s fondest memories involves using the device so that his buddy could “sing” during the camp’s annual talent show.

“We programmed the song Amazing Grace, which is his favorite song, and my favorite song, into his touch box,” Mitchell said. “He went up on stage, hooked the microphone up to his touch box, and sang the song. We stood him up out of his wheelchair, let him go, and he actually stood on his own in front of everyone. The whole audience cheered and clapped for him.”

Mitchell said he was grateful to be a part of that moment, because it wasn’t something that his buddy had ever experienced before. He knew it meant a lot to him.

“He has never been the center of attention in his life,” Mitchell said. “He was kind of a societal outcast, and after 35 years, that was awesome. I was really fortunate to have witnessed that and to be a part of his life.”

Cook took a different path and traveled across the globe to do missions work at a children’s home in Kenya. In Kenya, he got to spend one-on-one time with the children, even setting up a basketball hoop on a tree.

“There were a few times when [the children in the home] were just so generous with what little they had,” Cook said. “One girl came up and said, ‘Cody, I have a gift for you,’ which was a piece of gum. It was a big deal to her. It was so cool, and I felt really special about that. Right before I left, a couple of them gave me pictures of them, and I really don’t think they had many pictures of themselves. I mean this could have been their last one. Just really sweet and sacrificial acts that make you feel so welcomed.”

Cook and Mitchell both agree that their experiences made them more accepting and understanding inside the ENC community. They said their trips allowed them to see people for who they really are, despite any differences they may possess.

“It changes how you view people. It changes how you praise the Lord. It changes your perspective on a lot of things,” Mitchell said. “Be thankful for every day and don’t be focused on yourself. There is a lot of self-focus, especially in college. The biggest way I can impact this community is how I go about my own business.”