One evening this past January, more than 350 people enjoyed a candlelight dinner in the Kinnick Stadium press box. They mingled, won prizes, and danced around the black-and-pink decorated room. After the last song, a limousine picked them up for an after-party at the Airliner.
Although participants raved about the fun night out, organizer and UI volleyball player Jordanne LeTourneau had a greater purpose behind the event: to raise $7,000 for impoverished children and mothers around the world. According to the Compassion International organization, more than half the world's children under age five suffer from malnutrition, and nearly 21,000 children under that age die each day of preventable diseases. Moved by those statistics-especially as a participant in Compassion's "Sponsor a Child" program—LeTourneau founded the Baby Steps Donation Fund to assist the non-profit in providing food, immunizations, and health care to children and families in need.
LeTourneau arrived at the fund-raising idea last year as she lay in a hospital bed facing her own health struggles. The McHenry, Illinois, native, who once led her high school team to an Elite Eight appearance and a second-place conference finish in 2008, couldn't play her final 26 games with Iowa last season. LeTourneau was diagnosed with median arcuate ligament syndrome, a vascular anomaly that forced her to permanently leave the sport she loves.
"It's been hard to adjust, because volleyball has always been a big part of my life," says LeTourneau, who applied for a UI Athletics marketing position to stay connected to the sport. "Even now, I feel like I'm still there to support the team. When my teammates come home from a hard practice or workout, I remind them all their hard work is going to pay off."
LeTourneau relied on the support of her teammates, UI Athletics, the Greek community, and co-organizer Jessica Kozlowski to promote and organize her inaugural fund-raising event. Emboldened by its success, she plans to create a UI student organization that hosts fund-raisers for a variety of charities and establish student philanthropic partnerships across the Big Ten. She recently became a business major in hopes of pursuing a philanthropic career. "I've been fortunate with all I've been given, especially as a student-athlete at the UI," says LeTourneau. "It's opened my eyes to see the need in the world and give back to what I see."
With Baby Steps, LeTourneau aims to encourage everyone to find simple ways to make the world a better place. Says the UI sophomore, "A small step can make a big difference."