Five Illini Head to Ecuador with SALSC
June 13, 2011
Eighteen individuals from colleges around the country, including five current and former Fighting Illini, are traveling to Ecuador this month to help build a school. Student-Athletes Leading Social Change (SALSC) is spearheading the trip to the village of Chismaute June 11-20.
"We are working with the Canadian organization ME to WE, which has been awesome," said SALSC Co-Founder and former Illinois swimmer Cece Marizu. "They have the visit setup for us and we get to know a little bit more about the culture and area. Chismaute is located in the southern province in rural Ecuador, the area that has the highest population of indigenous people in all of Ecuador."
The trip is the second worldwide endeavor SALSC has undertaken, just one year after its trip to Sikirar, Kenya. During the first trip, the 14-person group helped to build four elementary schools in Sikirar. The members of SALSC have made an effort to stay connected with the children of the community beyond their short trip.
"We are currently trying to continue our support of Sikirar children by sponsoring a SALSC scholarship to the Kisaruni Girls High School," Marizu said. "That allows for all members to stay connected to the trip and remember the moments that touched our lives."
SALSC was founded in 2009 by Marizu, University of Illinois Leadership Academy Director Jeff Janssen and Central Michigan University soccer player Amanda Waugh. The organization provides student-athletes with a way to be service-oriented while maintaining their busy schedule as student-athletes.
"Jeff is a great person," Marizu said. "He encourages every student-athlete to be a leader in their sport and leave a legacy behind. He contacted me about the possibility of doing something bigger and becoming more than just an athlete. My father is from Africa and I have always dreamed of doing something bigger, so we went for it."
Waugh became involved after reading a book that Janssen wrote. Central Michigan University does not have a leadership academy, but Waugh reached out to Janssen to let him know how much she admired him and how strong of a desire she had to get involved as a student-athlete.
"Amanda and I were connected from the time Jeff showed me that email," Marizu said. "She's been such an awesome person to work with. We had a Skype relationship at the beginning, so when we got to Kenya last year we were already friends."
Marizu, a captain and member of the Fighting Illini swimming team from 2006-2010, was a model student-athlete during her time at Illinois. She was President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), while finishing her swimming career as the second-fastest individual in school history in the 100 and 200 backstroke. During her SAAC presidency, Marizu created Jock Jams, which is an entertainment program featuring athletic teams from Illinois designed to support local groups and help fund trips like the one to Ecuador.
"I truly felt that Jock Jams was going to change the attitude of the student-athletes at Illinois," Marizu said. "I was nervous that it might turn out to be the biggest bust ever, but something inside of me told me to go for it. The crowd gets to see (Illini) student-athletes in a way they normally would not be able to, and for one night, all the student-athletes are together on a project that they spent the whole year working on."
Jock Jams was held at Illinois this past February for the second time, raising nearly $20,000 for SALCS, Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club and Salt and Light. More information on Jock Jams 2011 can be found here: http://bit.ly/JockJams2011
The efforts put forth by Marizu throughout her career have not gone unnoticed. Kathy Kaler, an academic counselor at the University of Illinois, is quick to praise the multi-talented Marizu.
"CeCe is an incredible young lady," Kaler said. "We recognized early on that she has a great passion to make a difference for others. She has been a great role model for our student-athletes and we feel fortunate to have been able to keep her around the academic services office as a graduate assistant. She has one year of school left, but there is no doubt in my mind that whatever she chooses to do, she will have great success."
Individuals interested in getting involved with SALSC are encouraged to visit the organization's website (www.salsc.org) for more information. The organization is open to all student-athletes, but the selection process for the trip is based on who is willing to work the hardest and do the most fundraising.
"Student-athletes learn more than just time management and work ethic; they learn compassion and how to be selfless when working with SALSC," Marizu said. "It is a great way to grow as a leader and leave a legacy!"
The 18 individuals making the trip to Ecuador: