By: Braunwyn Feil
The stands explode with cheering students sporting black t-shirts that read “Monmouth College Blackout.” While the fans continue cheering for their winning football team, they also continue to show their support for an important cause. As students walk by, their backs read, “Awareness, Understanding, and Respect.” This is the motto chosen to represent the cause, Easter Seals Disability Services. Hundreds of students attend the Blackout home game for football each year, and participate by buying a shirt for $10.
The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) gets the student body involved by selling the shirts as a way to raise money for Easter Seals. According to SAAC’s sponsor, Coach Bittner, 489 shirts were sold on campus this year. While students were eager to buy a shirt, many were unsure of what Easter Seals has to offer our community. According to the official Easter Seals website, “Easter Seals provides exceptional services, education, outreach, and advocacy so that people living with autism and other disabilities can live, learn, work, and play in our communities.” Over the past 90 years, 550 sites have been created throughout the United States, with services that include medical rehabilitation, children’s services, along with adult and senior services.
The Blackout originated in the fall of 2008 at Elmwood/Brimfield High School, with the idea that money should be raised for Easter Seals. The man behind the success is Todd Hollis, a coach for the Elmwood/Brimfield football team, that experienced Easter Seals through his daughter, who was receiving services at the time. Hollis explains, “Easter Seals represents a haven for families of children with disabilities… The kids are treated like rock stars when they go to Easter Seals.” The idea of the Blackout was born when Hollis took his football team on a tour of the facility where they became so moved by the experience that the players asked to raise more money. Hollis says, “That inspired me to grow our efforts the next year and the Blackout was the result of our brainstorming.” The Blackout consisted of selling t-shirts to all the high school students and the community, and hosting a Blackout football game. The fundraiser became an annual event that spread to surrounding schools, including Monmouth College. Participating in the Blackout is a great way to support a team and raise money for Easter Seals. Hollis says, “Over the four year history of the Blackout, we have had 30+ schools participate… with nearly 20,000 shirts in central Illinois.” The Blackout has been very successful and continues to grow each year, reaching more and more students who can help raise money for Easter Seals. Jess Bybee, a former Elmwood student, who now attends Monmouth, states, “It’s amazing to see something that started at my small high school reach the college level.
Buying a shirt was a small way to help the families of Easter Seals and support MC.” By buying a t-shirt, the students of Monmouth College are not only changing the lives of Easter Seals’ patients but also impacting their own lives. Hollis reminds us, “The message of the Blackout that they carry with them- the message of acceptance, respect, and understanding, can change their workplace, how they raise their children, and the environment that they live in.”