George Mason in the "Spotlight" (12/12)


Men's basketball player Jesus Urbina

Mason Basketball Player Jesus Urbina Reads to Children in Spanish

College student-athletes have a unique opportunity that professional athletes are not afforded – they can be role models not just for their accomplishment on the field, but for their work in the classroom as well. Jesus Urbina is one such role model.

Urbina is a member of the George Mason men’s basketball team. The junior from Venezuela has recently begun joining his coach, Jim Larranaga, in touring area elementary schools to help promote reading and its importance. A large percentage of the students Urbina has been meeting are Spanish speaking, which gives Urbina a chance to introduce himself in his native tongue.

“I meet with the kids in their classroom,” said Urbina. “Coach L introduces himself and then I introduce myself in Spanish.”

After introductions are out of the way, Urbina will read to the kids and talk to them about how critical it is to read.

“We tell them how important it is to go to school,” said Urbina. “We emphasis how important it is to read and all the knowledge you can gain by reading. And we emphasize schoolwork.”

Urbina said that the idea of going to schools and reading to children came from Coach Larranaga, and when he asked for a volunteer, Urbina didn’t have to think twice.

“Anything involving kids, I love to take part in,” Urbina said. “They want to follow a role model. That’s the fun part of it.”

So far, the visits by Urbina and Larranaga have been to Providence Elementary School. In Mason’s second semester, the pair will visit McNair Elementary.

Mason’s Student-Athletes make a Difference with Families Devastated by Hurricane Katrina

The George Mason athletic department donated funds through various Hurricane Katrina relief efforts this past fall, but one particular endeavor was spearheaded by student-athlete Jacob Weitz. A defender on the soccer field, Weitz established a collection drive for victims of the hurricane back in October and made a difference for many, but particularly for one family.

Jacob formulated the idea after speaking to Kim Bindursky, a friend in Louisiana he had met this past summer at a soccer camp, and after recognizing the severity of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, he knew he had to do something to find a way to help. He challenged the other student-athletes at Mason to assist in the drive.

“After speaking with Kim I knew that I needed to do something,” said Weitz. “I’m a member of the Student Athlete Association Committee (SAAC) and in our meeting I encouraged each of the SAAC members to get their teams involved and they all were very responsive.”

The student-athletes responded collecting five big boxes of toiletries, paper goods, soap, toothpaste, and other sanitary items and a cash donation that totaled $800. Weitz gathered all the items and sent them to Kim in Alexandria, Louisiana, a small town 80 miles north of New Orleans to distribute. Many of the victims of the natural disaster traveled on foot for days seeking refuge in her town.

“Kim’s mother works for the American Red Cross and they distributed the toiletries to the churches and recreation centers that were used as shelters for the victims until they could find homes,” added Weitz.

Many of the families lost everything to the hurricane and have relocated to this small town with the assistance of the American Red Cross and through grassroots efforts like this. The cash donation of $800 was specifically given to a well-deserved family that has now relocated to Alexandria and paid their rent and their utilities for the first month.

“I was happy that the money was designated to a family trying to make a fresh start,” said Weitz. “Sometimes when you send a donation to an organization you don’t necessarily know exactly where the money is going. This way I felt that we really made a difference.”

Check back on Dec. 19 for JMU in the spotlight!