This 2020-21 SEC Community Service Team selection understands the importance of service.
Being a student-athlete at the University of Kentucky provided an opportunity for swimmer Lauren Denham that she was not necessarily expecting: she has amassed over 200 hours of community service in her first 3 1/2 years at UK.
“Community service is something I developed a passion for at UK. I had a platform where I could give back and have really enjoyed it,” said Denham, a Lexington native. “I was not nearly as active in high school [at Paul Laurence Dunbar,] but all the resources you have as a student-athlete at UK have been amazing. I have got to share some great experiences with others during my time at UK.”
She’s volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, where she has cleaned and cooked meals for families. “I do enjoy cooking and it is something I am passionate about doing to help those families,” Denham said.
She’s spent time crafting with senior citizens at Hometown Manor Assisted Living.
“I really enjoy making a difference with the elderly and putting a smile on their face. Sometimes it can be the simplest thing like just writing a card with them,” Denham said.
She also went to Harlan with a group of UK athletes to clean bleachers, paint walls, help children from a Harlan County school with school work and play sports with children.
A large portion of her volunteer time has been serving the last 2 1/2 years as a mentor at Amachi Central Kentucky that assists children impacted by incarceration by engaging them in consistent mentoring relationships. Denham has spent time with the same 10-year-old girl to provide a constant mentorship.
“Mentees can range in age from 6 to 16,” Denham said. “This is something I really enjoy doing, and make it a priority to fit into my schedule to spend time with my mentee. We have about 12 swimmers on the team actively involved in this program. Pre-COVID, we would get together and make it a really fun gathering for the mentees.”
“I try to focus on life skills and confidence building with her. We made Valentine cards to send to a nursing home. I like teaching her to give back, but we also like to have fun. We bake, go to the park a lot. Just spending one on one time talking with her is really fun.”
“Community service is something I developed a passion for at UK. I had a platform where I could give back and have really enjoyed it.”
Denham plans to stay in Lexington after graduation and plans to continue her relationship with her mentee. “Some of my teammates who move away after graduation can’t do that, but I want to continue to be her mentee until she is 16 and be in her life as long as I can,” Denham said. “One of the reasons I love doing this is that young kids give me a different perspective on life and teach me different things. She is always so excited even to just go on a walk. She might be my mentee, but she shows me how to take life with a great attitude.”
Combining her community service work with her swim schedule and academic obligations makes time management difficult. Denham admits there have been times at UK where it was “overwhelming” for her.
“But it is not stressful when you enjoy what you are doing,” she said. “I enjoy going to practice with my teammates. I enjoy being a mentee. Things I do I like to do with a purpose. You find a way to make time for things you like to do. Same with studying. It’s not hard because I enjoy it.”