While a collegiate student-athlete may think their life is hard, it is nothing compared to some others. Sure they can read about or see video coverage about hardships, but until seen first hand while away from home, nothing fully hits home.
Utah State junior volleyball player Kaitlyn VanHoff, a native of Draper, Utah, has embraced the mentality of dedicating her time and energy to helping others, finding the balance of schoolwork, volleyball and community service. A huge part of that equation for VanHoff is taking the time to volunteer and make a difference in her community and around the world.
This week, VanHoff travels to Tanzania on the eastern side of Africa where she will spend a month volunteering with HELP International.
“I’ve always just been interested in humanitarian work and helping abroad. Two years ago, I went to India with a different group and that’s where it all started. After working with them, it sort of got addicting,” VanHoff said. “I was looking around at different organizations and figuring out where I wanted to go. This was just the best fit and best organization for me.”
Founded by faculty and staff from Brigham Young University in 1999, HELP International was created to aid recovery efforts after the devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch. The initial 46 volunteers raised $115,000 while spending four months in Honduras. While there, they did humanitarian work along with giving micro-credit loans to encourage local businesses.
Now with programs in eight different countries, HELP International works with locals to develop communities through public health, education, entrepreneurship and business projects.
“HELP’s mission is to empower people to fight global poverty through sustainable, life-changing developmental programs,” VanHoff said. “It’s mostly going over to help them and actually teach them so that after we leave, they can still do it. It’s showing them and teaching them skills so it continues to make a difference after we leave.”
VanHoff has made a point of fitting everything in while not getting overwhelmed.
“I think she fits it in well. She’s done this kind of thing for a long time, and it’s important to her. You find the time for those things and to make them happen,” volleyball coach Grayson DuBose said. “The summer is a great time to make that happen. She trained with the team for a few weeks then will head over there and come back and get ready for the season. You make time for the things that are important to you and that’s what she’s doing.”
The travel and the service, along with her volleyball career, are what matter to VanHoff. After her humanitarian trip to India, she knew it wasn’t going to be the end of her international experience.
“It’s just seriously so humbling. It’s hard to understand until you actually go. Until you get there, you don’t understand how poverty-stricken they really are. They don’t have anything. They don’t have a house, they don’t have toilets, they barely have any food. They wear the same clothes the entire time you’re there. It’s just mind blowing,” VanHoff said. “In going, you help them, but I almost feel like it helps me more. It’s a two-way street. That’s what keeps me going back.”
In order to go to Tanzania, VanHoff had to raise the money to get there. She has spent the last several months conducting small fundraisers, ranging from gift-wrapping at a bookstore to selling cookie dough door-to-door. She also conducted an online campaign to raise money.
With so much going on in her life already, no one would think anything of it if VanHoff stayed close to home during the offseason.
“I think it’s nice when athletes give back. They get a lot of stuff and sometimes feel like everyone owes them something. It’s nice when they feel like it’s a good idea to give back,” DuBose said. “For Kaitlyn to have this opportunity is pretty neat. It really helps her keep a nice perspective of how fortunate she is to live where she does and do what she’s able to do.”
After the things she has already experienced, VanHoff isn’t about to give it up. She recognizes how lucky she is in the life she lives and wants to do her part to help others feel the same way.
“A lot of us take so many things for granted. Waking up in a bed, washing our hands, taking a shower, they don’t have any of that. I want to be able to provide that, even if just a little bit,” VanHoff said. “Just seeing their faces after you help them, they just light up and get so excited and so happy. It makes it all worth it.”
While she does these trips and projects to mainly benefit others, VanHoff said she is also thankful for the way it has helped develop her into the woman she is now.
“I would not be the same person I am today if I hadn’t have done any of this. I’d be completely different. That’s the main thing is how it has changed me,” VanHoff said. “Aspects of that have changed and affected me, having an impact on each aspect of my life.”
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.