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Student-Athletes as Leaders - Little Beavers 2020 NCAA Diversity and Inclusion Week

As part of NCAA Division III Diversity and Inclusion Week, we are featuring three student-athletes who are involved with the Little Beavers Program at MIT.

LIV PARSONS - JUNIOR - LEESBURG, VA. - MIT FIELD HOCKEY

What Is Little Beavers? Little Beavers is a club on campus that matches MIT athletes with kids from the Boston area who are on the autism spectrum. In this one-on-one pairing, we meet up every Sunday and stretch, run laps, play games, and make friends!

What is your role? I am a coach for Little Beavers.

What is the goal of Little Beavers? The program strives to increase the self confidence and skill levels of the young runners by providing a positive, supportive environment. We emphasize social opportunities for both parents and children to make valuable connections in a welcoming community space.

What does Little Beavers mean to you? Little Beavers is all about helping these kids realize their potential and capabilities. I was lucky enough to work with the same athlete for two seasons, and it was an absolute blast to get to know her personality, but what really made my heart beam was the milestones she passed. Anyone who knows my athlete knows she is super bubbly, smiley, and has a great attitude. Still sometimes, she would get down on herself and say she couldn’t do it - “I can’t run today, there’s no way I can finish the lap”, things like that. Those days when we pushed through, together, and exceeded what she thought she could do… when I could see the pride in her face after she finished the run she didn’t think she could do… those moments are what make Little Beavers so special. The realization that they CAN do it is what Little Beavers is all about.

What diversity and inclusion mean to you? If everyone were the same, the world would be an incredibly boring place. Our differences are what make us unique, interesting, and able to thrive as a community. Only when we can connect over our differences can we move forward and grow productively, and collectively. “Diversity and Inclusion” might be words on a page, but to me, they carry far more weight. The weight that everyone is important - their values, ideas, and histories. The weight that you can learn from every single person around you. And the weight that the world wouldn’t be the same if one person (and their differences) were missing.

HALEY SAMUELSEN - SOPHOMORE - HOUSTON, TEXAS - SOFTBALL

What is Little Beavers? Little Beavers pairs MIT student-athlete volunteers with local children with autism to participate in weekly, free, running-based activities.

What is your role? I am the Finance and Operations Manager for Little Beavers. My responsibilities include estimating costs for each season, coordinating fundraisers, making reservations for practices, ordering necessary supplies, and coaching our amazing athletes.

What is the goal of Little Beavers? Little Beavers’ mission is to inspire confidence, community, and connection between children with autism, their families, and MIT college student-athletes.

What does Little Beavers mean to you? For me, Little Beavers is an empowering community of remarkable individuals. Going into Little Beavers, I set out to make an impact on the athletes’ lives, but in reality, the athletes are really the ones inspiring me. Their determination to achieve goals and their overall joy for life never ceases to amaze me, and our weekly practices are a gentle reminder that there is so much beauty in surrounding yourself with people who are uniquely different from you.

What diversity and inclusion means to you? Diversity and inclusion to me means embracing and loving the differences in other people and creating a welcoming environment where others feel appreciated and respected regardless of their background.

HELEN LIU - SOPHOMORE - SHORT HILLS, N.J. - FIELD HOCKEY

What is Little Beavers? Little Beavers is a weekly, free exercise program for local children with autism that promotes healthy habits by motivating them to exercise via one-on-one coaching with MIT student-athletes.

What is your role? I am on the executive board for Little Beavers as the Publicity Manager, but I am also a coach. Unfortunately, Little Beavers isn’t able to have its current season, but last year and throughout the summer I would meet with my Little Beavers athlete once a week (via Zoom once we all moved online) to work out together.

What does Little Beavers/Diversity and Inclusion mean to you? Since diversity and inclusion are very important to me as a female athlete of color, the Little Beavers program aligns with my goals to increase inclusion in athletics by exposing children with learning disabilities to the benefits of exercise at a young age and showing them that it’s enjoyable for everyone.