Wildcats Serving projects help alumni, students, parents make a difference – together

Published in Winter-Spring 2017 edition of ACU Today magazine

On a cool spring Saturday in downtown Dallas, two young girls stood with their parents and handed out hot dogs and potato chips to the homeless. Madeline, 11, and Morgan, 8, weren’t phased by the outing in the now-closed Tent City encampment; it was just another day spent serving. That’s just how their parents want it.

“I want them to know that that’s something that we do,” says Greg Pirtle (’98), of Allen. “I want them to be around people who are different than them. I want service to be a part of who they are – it’s just what they do.”

He, his wife Alison (Whelan ’99) Pirtle, and their daughters joined hundreds of others across Texas on April 2, 2016, for Wildcats Serving, an annual day of service designed to get ACU alumni and friends involved in their communities. Projects are led in Abilene, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, everything from working at food banks and homeless shelters to participating in neighborhood cleanups.

“A lot of people want to serve, they just don’t always know where and how,” Pirtle says. “Being given the opportunity and a place to serve makes a difference, especially if you’re getting alumni together. Wildcats Serving speaks to what the mission of ACU is about.”

Wildcats Serving came about thanks to a group of active alumni in the Houston area who started their own service day with the help of Carri (Teague ’88) Hill, university relations manager for the area. She and Craig Fisher (’92), director of alumni relations and university relations, saw potential for the service day to spread statewide, and once it did in 2015, many alumni jumped at the opportunity to participate.

“We have found many new alumni coming to this opportunity instead of other events because it’s something that really connects with them,” Fisher says. “We have such selfless people in the ACU community. I love it that they’re coming together to serve with their Wildcat family all over the state. That’s really special.”

The Fullers, Robert, Amari and Rella, were one of the many families who joined the Houston group for Wildcats Serving in April 2016.

Holly (Carter ’98) McVey served at the Houston Food Bank event in April with members of her church, the Cinco Ranch Church of Christ. She and her children helped pack boxes of food to be distributed to the community; in fiscal year 2015-16, the Houston Food Bank distributed 79 million nutritious meals to the Houston area. 

“We were able to tour the food bank and hear about the people and ways it helps our community,” she says. “It was a great teaching opportunity for my children.” 

As the family minister at Greenville Oaks Church of Christ in Allen, Pirtle isn’t new to working with the homeless. But he was struck by the attitude of those being served in Dallas’ Tent City. 

“A lot of people who came through the line were also serving other people,” he says. “ ‘Hey, I’ve got a friend back over here, can I take food to them?’ ‘Can I take food to my mother?’ They wanted to help other people as well. That was really good to see – they were really gracious and generous.” 

This past year, ACU students also became involved and participated in various projects around Abilene. 

“When you’re asking current ACU students to serve knowing alumni are also doing the same in different cities and locations, it ties you to a bigger community than just your neighborhood and area,” Pirtle says. “It reminds us the ACU community is a large one that extends to a lot of different places.” 

Hill says that’s the beauty of Wildcats Serving, which will return Saturday, April 1. 

“It’s really valuable for us not to only look at ourselves but to turn our focus on how we can impact our communities,” she says. “And if we can do it with fellow alumni, that’s even better.” 

– SARAH CARLSON