‘Go forth to serve’ showcased at BYU football service opportunities all season

For BYU’s inaugural Big 12 season, each away football game had a service project in conjunction with the BYU Alumni Association

This college football season, BYU fans around the United States had a chance to give back to their communities, cheer for the Cougars and demonstrate how BYU graduates are going forth to serve.

For BYU’s inaugural Big 12 season, the BYU Alumni Association hosted a service project during pregame tailgate festivities at every road game.

BYU President C. Shane Reese praised the efforts in an Instagram post in November.

“There are awesome Cougar fans all over the country who are ready for a great football game, but they’re also at the tailgate doing something important for their community — they’re doing something to benefit the world,” he wrote. “A BYU tailgate is a party with a purpose! I love our unique mission at BYU, and I love our alumni who are out sharing their light with the world.”

Local alumni chapters planned and organized the Cougs Care projects in conjunction with local nonprofit groups in Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma from September through November. The projects included efforts to collect food, children’s books, bedding, toys and other items for refugees and for children in need.

Alumni Association executive director Michael Johanson said: “BYU alumni are focused on connecting for good no matter where we are. Cougs Care projects allow our alumni, fans and friends to come together to support the team on the road and make a positive and lasting impact in local communities.”

A food drive in Arkansas

Prior to BYU’s only road victory of the year over the University of Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday, Sept. 16, local BYU alumni and friends hosted a food drive at the pregame tailgate.

Hundreds of pounds of food items were collected for the St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. A truck carrying 40,000 pounds of food was also delivered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Two men shake hands after a food donation dropoff at a pregame BYU Alumni tailgate event in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
A pregame BYU Alumni tailgate event gathers food donations for the St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. | Nate Edwards, BYU

The project received media coverage locally in Arkansas and in Utah and demonstrated how BYU graduates are going forth to serve.

“This is simply an extension of our desire to serve the people of a community and to serve the Lord,” said Blaine Douglas, president of the Northwest Arkansas Alumni chapter in an interview. “That’s the whole purpose of these projects is to give back to the community and help people that need it.”

Donating books in Kansas

The Midwestern BYU alumni chapters, the BYU Education Society, and the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences joined on Saturday, Sept. 23, to collect more than 2,000 children’s books for the Lawrence Public Schools Native American Student Services.

BYU fans gathered prior to the BYU-Kansas football game in Lawrence, Kansas, to celebrate, eat and serve. Fans could purchase a book online and have it sent to Lawrence or bring a book to the tailgate.

BYU fans and alumni donate books at a pregame tailgate event in Lawrence, Kansas.
BYU fans and alumni donate books in conjunction with the Midwestern BYU alumni chapters, the BYU Education Society, and the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences, in Lawrence, Kansas, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. | Nate Edwards, BYU

“[Saturday] was so much fun, even if we didn’t win the game,” said Heidi Menssen, a BYU graduate who lives in Merriam, Kansas. “The tailgate and service project put on by our regional BYU Alumni chapters were a huge success.”

Bedding for refugee families in Fort Worth, Texas

In a tailgate event before the BYU at TCU game on Saturday, Oct. 14, fans and alumni in Forth Worth, Texas, brought bedding items for Action Alliance International. The group will distribute the bedding to local refugee families in need.

Action Alliance International is a local nonprofit organization that was created and organized by Linda Cotton and Corrine Nelson, two BYU alumnae living in the area. 

Nelson told the Church News the Cougs Care service project was a wonderful help to the refugee families in the area. 

“These sweet people come to America with nothing, and we are thrilled to be able to provide them with a bed of their own to feel safe and warm in,” she said, noting how the donations included pillows, sheets, blankets, mattress covers and comforters. 

A BYU fan in a blue shirt hands donated bedding to a man in front of a UHAUL truck in Fort Worth, Texas.
BYU fans bring a donation to a tailgate event before the BYU-TCU football game in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. | Tyler Stahle, BYU

“Most of these refugees have been living in refugee camps in harsh conditions. We are so grateful to be able to give them a comfortable bed to get a good night’s sleep, which will help them in every aspect of their lives,” she said. “It is a difficult and time-consuming process to get all settled in their new country. We wanted to give them some comfort, hope, and peace.”

The Wednesday before the game, the Church also supplied a truck of food to the Midwest Food Bank of Texas.

Children’s toys in Austin, Texas

On Saturday morning, Oct. 28, BYU alumni and fans in Austin, Texas, partnered with the Travis County Sheriff’s Brown Santa initiative to collect children’s toys, puzzles and games before the BYU game against the University of Texas.

Attendees donated hundreds of toys and money to the holiday gift drive, which benefits families in need in the Austin area. 

A Travis County Sheriff’s deputy carries donated children’s toys a tailgate event in Austin, Texas.
A Travis County Sheriff’s deputy carries donated children’s toys at a tailgate event before the BYU-Texas game in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. | Tyler Stahle, BYU

BYU Alumni Chapter Chair Debbie Talbot told NBC Austin KXAN that the tailgate was a means of breathing life into BYU’s motto: “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.”

“Any time we can be together, we like to try and do something to bless the community and thank them for hosting BYU,” Talbot said. “What can we do to serve, and how can we get the help that we need to make these types of things happen? We have plenty of people that wanted to be involved to help make that happen.”

BYU alums also planned a late November delivery of 40,000 pounds of food to benefit Brown Santa along with several local food pantries.

Children’s books in West Virginia

Prior to the Saturday, Nov. 4, football game in Morgantown, West Virginia, BYU alumni and fans from across the East Coast came together to collect children’s books. 

BYU alumni chapters and the BYU Education Society worked with West Virginia University’s College of Applied Human Sciences and West Virginia United Way chapters on the project — collecting over a thousand books at the tailgate and hundreds more from online purchases.

The books will be used to create new classroom libraries at the WVU nursery school and to provide books to children in need in the local community. 

A volunteer goes through donated children’s books at a tailgate service project before the BYU and West Virginia football game.
A volunteer goes through donated children’s books at a tailgate service project in Morgantown, West Virginia, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. | Tyler Stahle, BYU

Eric Bryan, the BYU Alumni chapter chair of the Cleveland area, told WV Metro News:

“It comes down to the BYU school creed, we believe in ‘Enter to learn, go forth to serve.’ That service can be rendered with partners everywhere, and everybody wants children to learn, progress and grow.”

He continued, “We can really make an impact on the young children in Morgantown that we want to support. This is bigger than a game. This impacts our communities and our country, which we all love dearly, so I hope we can all get behind that.”

Children’s sports equipment in Oklahoma

At a tailgate event on Saturday, Nov. 25, before BYU’s regular season finale game versus Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, fans and alumni brought sports equipment to benefit the Payne County Youth Services and Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma.

More than 700 sports balls were donated, including basketballs, soccer balls, footballs and Frisbee discs.

“We wanted to focus on something that would benefit children,” said Mary Ford of BYU Alumni’s Tulsa Chapter. “It is a time of year when people are more aware of the needs of children, and with our game being Thanksgiving weekend, that was a great fit.”

Four women at a tailgate service project collecting sports equipment for children in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
From left: Sheri Gray, Payne County Youth Services; Mary Ford, BYU Alumni Tulsa Oklahoma Chapter; Sarah Bushman, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints area communications director; and Christen Miles, Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma, at a tailgate service project collecting sports equipment for children in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. | Gavin Murphy

Also, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated 600 pairs of shoes to the Central Oklahoma Community Action Agency, which will benefit Payne and surrounding counties.

“As BYU alumni, we strive to follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, to love our neighbor and reach out to those in need. These projects are a gesture of appreciation for our host city,” Ford said in an interview with

BYU’s Tyler Stahle contributed to this report.

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