Alumna Giving Back In Celebration Of Daughter’s Memory, Perfect Season

Alumna Sarah Dodson ’01 plans on honoring the memory of her daughter, Marlie, with a special volunteer project in Atlanta and Orlando on New Year’s Eve.

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 24, 2017) – On Dec. 31, 2011, Sarah Dodson ’01 knew New Year’s Eve would never hold the same meaning to her again. After five years of treatment, her 8-year-old daughter Marlie, who dreamed of becoming a UCF cheerleader and nurse, died of a brain tumor (Pineoblastoma).

In 2012, Dodson and her family established a new tradition with the hope that they could re-channel their feelings about the day into a positive experience. As a tribute to Marlie’s life, the family has sponsored a Share-A-Meal each year at the Ronald McDonald House at Orlando’s Arnold Palmer Medical Center.

This year, they’re expanding their efforts to Atlanta where the family of Knights fans will be to support the undefeated UCF football team in its Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl appearance on Jan. 1 against Auburn.

“We were moved by memorializing Marlie for this event, but ultimately it was representing UCF in a community that we’ve been invited to be a part of with this bowl game,” Dodson said. “That was a big piece of it for me – how cool is it that we can represent UCF and give back to this community on something that we’re all so passionate about? What an honor it is to represent UCF in addition to Marlie’s memory.”

The idea to extend the Share-A-Meal to Atlanta was planted at the American Athletic Conference Championship Game on Dec. 2.

A longtime supporter of the football team, Dodson was sitting in the stands at Spectrum Stadium before the last play when her sister turned to her and said, “They’re going to win this game. What are you going to do? I guess you’re going to have to have the Share-A-Meal in Atlanta.”

Dodson said she laughed it off as an unrealistic possibility. She was already committed to their annual meal in Orlando, but the idea stuck with her.

She researched the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and learned of its reputation as college football’s most charitable bowl and its commitment to education and the community’s children. As an educator herself with Club Z! In-Home Tutoring Services, it struck a chord.

She also learned the bowl is celebrating its 50th year – it’s golden season. Gold also happens to be the color for childhood cancer awareness. And “forever golden” is how Dodson’s entire family refers to Marlie.

Dodson felt there were too many signs to ignore. Her friends and support system at home told her they would take over the Orlando meal this year and encouraged her to go to Atlanta.

“This has almost been like a movement for Team Marlie. Now we know we can do this anywhere,” she said. “We can have multiple groups travel to any city because we’re so supported. It’s so perfect that it worked out and our first city will be Atlanta, and we’ll be there because of UCF.”

Dodson connected with the Ronald McDonald Family Room at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorder Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Scottish Rite. They’ll be serving meals to the patients, families, nurses, doctors and hospital staff.

Although Dodson can only bring three helpers onto the floor with her to serve the meals, her entire regular tailgate crew of 12 will help in the preparation.

“Meals are very important for the families who visit the family room. Most families do not want to leave their child’s bedside even if that means going downstairs to the cafeteria, so having a place where they can eat as a family moments away from their hospital room and worry free of cost, is a special treat,” said April Smith, family support services manager for Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities. “Families have expressed how grateful and appreciative they are to have groups and individuals volunteer their time to provide and serve warm prepared meals. I was happy to hear Sarah wanted to continue her volunteer work while visiting in Atlanta.”

They also plan to distribute sparkling apple cider and champagne flutes to help create a festive New Year’s Eve atmosphere in the children’s rooms.

Dodson said experiences like these are always a balance of excitement and compassion. Inevitably there will be some tears, but she is looking forward to the opportunity to honor her daughter’s memory on a weekend she knows her little cheerleader would have been thrilled to be a part of.

“This season was something that we’ve all been waiting for. The thing about Marlie was win or lose, she was a fan. I know her pride for this team would be through the roof,” she said. “If I was able to put to words what Marlie might feel, looking down on us, I think mostly she would be excited that we were living life and embracing another community and another group of children. She taught us to live life and to find happiness and love in everyone you come across. Continuing to be her voice and share that passion, I think she’d be excited we have smiles on our faces and are enjoying the experience.”

Marlie Dodson

Peach Bowl Weekend: Tips To Live Like An ATL Local

Atlanta UCF Alumni Chapter

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 21, 2017) – When news broke that the UCF football team was headed to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Jan. 1, perhaps no one was more overjoyed than the Atlanta UCF Alumni Chapter.

With roughly 4,200 UCF graduates living in the Atlanta metro area, it’s one of the largest hot spots in the country for alumni.

“I was bombarded with messages. Everyone was so excited,” said Falini Shah ’14, chair of the Atlanta chapter. “I know we’re going to leave our mark here, and everybody is going to enjoy their time in Atlanta.”

Atlanta’s group is one of 25 active UCF Alumni chapters or clubs around the country.

Shah recently moved to Atlanta from Denver, where she served as the chair-elect for one year. The regional chapter and club program has helped her network and create new friendships as she has started her career in healthcare. She is a big advocate for getting involved with the chapter and club program as a way to grow professionally and stay connected to UCF.

“If there’s any hesitation, I’ve found it’s related to time commitment. A lot of people say, ‘I already work 50-60 hour weeks and I have a family and I like to travel a lot, I just don’t think I’m going to be as available.’ But it’s really what you make it,” she said. “So any sort of involvement you’re able to give back to a university that has given so much to you, I would say take up that opportunity. You just never know who you’re going to meet at these events.”

The group has been helping prepare the city transform into #Knightlanta. Shah and several devoted members of the chapter recently traveled around the city hanging UCF flags at local establishments to help make UCF fans feel more at home when they arrive on bowl weekend.

“When I was going around to these places asking them to hang up our flags, all I had to say was we were able to sell out our allotment of 13,000 tickets in less than a day, and everyone I talked to was like, ‘Yeah, put up some flags! We’re happy to have you guys!’” Shah said. “We’ve done so well for ourselves this year, and it shows in how strongly Knight Nation supports UCF.”

The chapter also has some tips to share with fellow Knights who are traveling to its city. Read on for Shah’s local guide to Atlanta.

>Where is the best place for a cup of coffee that’s not Starbucks?
Dancing Goats Coffee Bar. They have a few locations around the city, and in addition to their specialty coffees, they have a lot of great pastries that they make on site.

>I’ve been to Six Flags, the Coca-Cola Factory and the Georgia Aquarium. What are some other sites I shouldn’t miss?
Ponce City Market. During the day it’s all retail shops and food. There’s a winery, a brewery, a couple of small plate restaurants of any cuisine you can think of. On Friday and Saturday nights they turn the entire roof into a mini amusement park with a putt-putt golf course and carnival games. They also have an ice skating rink right now through the holidays.
Atlanta has a lot of history and we have several museums. One of my favorites is called the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. The Atlanta Botanical Garden is also something I’d recommend for everyone, especially during the holidays. They have special light displays.

>Where can I go to get a jump on my New Year’s resolution to exercise more?
The BeltLine. Also, the Chattahoochee River Trails. You can walk, bike or run on various trails and there are beautiful views year round. It’s great for all ages.

>When it’s any weekend but the Peach Bowl, where can I hang out with fellow Knights in Atlanta?
The hardest part about Atlanta is that it’s so big. Our watch parties are held at The Bird Rotisserie & Sports, which is in between the metropolitan area and the suburbs, and my goal has been to make sure that we have events in different parts of Atlanta so everyone can be involved in one way or another.

 

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Dec. 18, 2017

1. “It’s not enough to have a successful career. Success should be defined in terms of doing everything you can so everyone in your community has the same opportunities.”

That advice is from NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was one of the speakers during commencement weekend. Read the Orlando Sentinel feature.

2. The latest issue of Pegasus magazine is out, and its cover story explains how UCF’s history department is working with Florida veterans to preserve their stories.

3. If you’re heading to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, remember to check out the complete list of bowl weekend activities at ucfalumni.com/bowlbound.

4. UCF research may lead toward an exciting future where the blind see again, neurostimulator implants help relieve chronic pain and war veterans feel the sensation of touch in their prosthetic limb. Melanie Coathup, PhD, an internationally recognized specialist in bone regeneration and implant design, has been hired to lead the university’s new Prosthetic Interfaces faculty research cluster, which will work on big problems like these.

5. This is the last Five Things post of 2017. UCF Alumni wishes you and yours a happy holiday season and a great new year! Go Knights!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Dec. 11, 2017

1. Headed to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl? Start off the New Year celebrating with Knights fans of all ages at the UCF ChargeOn Tailgate in the heart of downtown Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame. You can expect special appearances by UCF fan favorites as well a drink ticket, breakfast buffet, fan giveaways and cash bar beverages. Register today!

2. As UCF’s presidential search committee aims to find the university’s fifth president, your opinion matters to them. UCF will host four opportunities for the campus and Central Florida communities to provide input at public forums. The university has also launched an online survey, available at www.ucf.edu/leadership/presidential-search.

3. Kyle Dencker ’08 ’16MA, a computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School, is now in the running for Florida top teacher honors after being named Orange County’s Teacher of the Year last week.

4. About 3,980 UCF students are expected to graduate in three ceremonies Dec. 15-16 at the CFE Arena. Former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is among this semester’s commencement speakers.

5. In case you missed it, UCF Football announced Josh Heupel as the Knights’ 11th head coach. He quickly named Randy Shannon as the new defensive coordinator. Read what they’re saying about this dynamic duo.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know This Week – Dec. 4, 2017

1. A BIG thank you to everyone who contributed to make Giving Tuesday last week such a success at UCF. Nearly 700 donors gave $71,000 in support of scholarships, athletic and academic programs. It was a record-breaking year, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

2. To say there’s *a lot* happening in the world of UCF Athletics is an understatement. Let’s rewind the last 48 hours to catch you up:

> UCF won its third American Athletic Conference championship title after its double-overtime thriller against Memphis at Spectrum Stadium. Improving to 12-0, the Knights remain the only undefeated team in the FBS this season.

> Scott Frost announced he was resigning as UCF’s head coach to accept the head coaching position at his alma mater, Nebraska. While we’re sad to see him go, we wish him nothing but the best back at home. Director of Athletics and Vice President Danny White said a nationwide search has begun to find his replacement, and Troy Walters has been named the interim head coach.

> On Sunday, UCF accepted an invitation to compete in a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Knights will face Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 1 at 12:30 p.m. Full details about events and tickets can be found on ucfalumni.com/bowlbound and ucfknights.com.

> Sunday also saw the men’s basketball team knock off No. 24-ranked Alabama. It marked the squad’s first true road win over a ranked opponent in program history.

3. The most scenic feature on the UCF campus – the Reflecting Pond – is getting a facelift. Earlier this year, the pond’s aging underground pipes sprung several leaks. And heavy rains during Hurricane Irma caused runoff that damaged some its electrical controls. The renovation will correct those problems, as well as modernize the Reflecting Pond’s technology and features.

4. After nearly 41 years in law enforcement and almost 11 as the leader of the UCF Police Department, Chief Richard Beary announced that he will retire effective June 30, 2018. Beary graduated from UCF in 2004 with a master’s degree in criminal justice. Read his message to fellow UCFPD officers and staff members.

And in case you missed it, UCFPD made some friends on Monday morning when they handed out water to hundreds of students waiting in line – some for more than 10 hours – to purchase their bowl tickets.

5. The second UCF Presidential Search Committee meeting will be held Monday, Dec. 4, from 2-4 p.m. Those interested in the meeting can watch a livestream through UCF’s official YouTube page.