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

UCF Salutes Veterans

In honor of Veterans Day, the UCF Alumni Association thanks all of the members of our U.S. Armed Forces — past and present —
for their service, dedication and sacrifice.

Since 2001, 2.7 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly one in 10 returns with post-traumatic stress disorder. Within a year of returning home, three in 10 will be diagnosed.

We’re proud to share some of the great things our alma mater is doing to assist our men and women in uniform, including:

UCF RESTORES Clinical Research Center

As part of the UCF Department of Psychology in the College of Sciences, UCF RESTORES is a clinical research center dedicated to the study of all facets of anxiety, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, including etiology, psychopathology, treatment, resilience and prevention.

The following video highlights the remarkable success that the UCF RESTORES clinic is finding in helping veterans master traumatic memories:

Veterans Academic Resource Center

The Veterans Academic Resource Center is a one-stop solution for the needs of student veterans.

The center ensures student veterans access to all available campus resources, provides study space and special tutoring, helps faculty and staff understand these students’ unique needs, and provides them the tools needed to stay on track and complete their degrees.

The VARC has been designated as a center for excellence for veteran-student success. And, since 2011, UCF has been named a “Military-Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs.

A Month of Honor and Remembrance

UCF is honoring veterans all month long, with a commemorative ceremony and other activities, which, so far, have included an open house and student-veteran appreciation lunch at the Veterans Academic Resource Center, a free screening of the documentary “Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History,” a flag display on Memory Mall, and a Veterans Day parade at Universal Studios.

Still to come:

  • Saturday, Nov. 14 | Several UCF organizations and departments will participate in the City of Orlando Veterans Day Parade, honoring the men and women of the armed forces. This year’s parade will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
  • Monday, Nov. 16 | Student-veterans are invited to attend Light Up UCF’s Military Appreciation Night. Contact Joshua Johnson at 407.823.5874 for more info.
  • Thursday, Nov. 19 | In gratitude of active military, reserves, veterans and first responders, they can register for complimentary tickets to the UCF vs. East Carolina football game for Military Appreciation Knight, and will also be extended to the UCF vs. USF game on Thursday, Nov. 26. GET TICKETS (Click on the “TICKETS” tab on the top banner, search “UCF Football” and select your seats. GOVX members will receive a complimentary ticket. Up to four additional tickets will be available at $20.)

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Service to UCF Award

Marcos Marchena, ’82, current chairman of the UCF Board of Trustees, and ex-officio member of the UCF Foundation
Board of Directors, presented this year’s Service to UCF Award to Olga Calvet, ’71.
The Honorable Olga M. Calvet, ’71 | Senior Vice President/CFO, Palmas Services LLC

The UCF Alumni Association honored Olga Calvet with its 2015 Service to UCF Award at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

After college, Olga joined the international accounting firm of Seidman and Seidman CPAs at their Orlando office. She continued her career at Laventhol and Horwath CPAs, eventually establishing her own CPA firm in 1979.

After selling her accounting practice in 1986, she began her current position as senior vice president and chief financial officer for Palmas Services LLC, a participant at Walt Disney World, and operator of restaurant and lounge locations at EPCOT and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.

Olga is a member of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. She’s also an active member of the UCF Alumni Association, served as chair of the UCF Foundation and is a charter member of the UCF Board of Trustees, as well as its immediate past chair.

She’s married to Cesar Calvet, with whom she has two daughters, Cristina, ’01, ’03, principal of CCH Marketing & Events Inc., and Alexandra, ’09, owner of Calvet Couture Bridal.

In addition to her professional accomplishments, Olga has a long-standing record of community service within Central Florida and beyond. In fact, she received the UCF Alumni Association’s Outstanding Community Service Award in 2001.

As a successful businesswoman and community leader, she is a shining example of a true UCF Knight.

Learn more about Olga:

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Oct. 12, 2015

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. In honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, UCF is hosting several events this month to encourage people to talk about domestic violence and learn more about the impact this crime has not only on the victims, but the entire community.
  2. The UCF Communications Disorders Clinic opened its doors to the public on Friday, showcasing its new state-of-the-art facility in Central Florida Research Park.
  3. The UCF Alumni Association is giving Knights an inside look at ways to help your children prepare for one of the most important decisions of their lives — applying for college! Join us this Wednesday from 6:30-8 p.m. at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center for our Legacy Admissions Workshop.
  4. Thirteen UCF Alumni chapters and clubs participated in this year’s Knights Give Back, the university’s annual day of service.
  5. The UCF RESTORES clinic is helping veterans combat PTSD, but it needs your help to continue its vital work!

Alumni Chapters/Clubs Participate in Knights Give Back 2015

As part of this year’s Knights Give Back day of service, the Chicago UCF Alumni Chapter prepared and served dinner
to families staying at the Ronald McDonald House.

Since 2007, students, alumni, faculty and staff have served more than 22,000 hours at UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back, making a lasting impact on the Central Florida community that will continue to grow, and saving Orlando nearly $600,000.

As part of Knights Give Back this year, many of our regional alumni chapters and clubs participated in service projects across the nation:

  • The Chicago UCF Alumni Chapter prepared and served dinner to local families staying at the Ronald McDonald House.
  • The Dallas/Ft. Worth UCF Alumni Club held a clothing and food drive benefiting The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center during its UCF at Tulane Watch Party.
  • The Denver UCF Alumni Chapter held a canned food drive to benefit the Denver Rescue Mission.
  • The Jacksonville UCF Alumni Club collected school supplies and non-perishable food items for the John E. Ford K-8 School and Ft. Caroline Elementary during its UCF at Tulane Watch Party.
  • The Ocala UCF Alumni Club held a children’s book drive, which benefited Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, during its UCF at Tulane Watch Party.
  • The Palm Beach UCF Alumni Chapter collected items supporting the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League during its UCF at Tulane Watch Party.
  • On Oct. 25, the Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter will be cheering on runners, manning water stations and helping to collect new/used running shoes to donate to local nonprofits at the Cocoa Beach Half Marathon.
  • On Nov. 21, the Southeast Florida UCF Alumni Chapter will be sorting through food before it gets donated to local food pantries through Feeding South Florida.
  • The Tallahassee UCF Alumni Club collected non-perishable food items to benefit the Big Bend Homeless Coalition.
  • The Volusia/Flagler UCF Alumni Club partnered with UCF Daytona to paint the PACE Center for Girls, which provides girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy.
  • The Washington D.C. Alumni Chapter sorted through food, donated by local farmers’ markets, for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and helped organize bundles for local families.

In addition, the UCF College of Sciences Alumni Chapter helped the efforts of Pegasus Professor Linda Walters, Ph.D., to restore degraded shorelines and oyster reefs at the Indian River Lagoon.

The UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter also helped out at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, a nonprofit animal shelter that takes in owner-relinquished pets. Through Pet Alliance, each animal is ensured to have a good quality of life and is provided with enrichment activities, socialization and exercise.

Plus, UCF Alumni Relations hosted a clean up at Orlando’s historic Greenwood Cemetery, where volunteers cleaned headstones, grave markers and memorials, removing debris, as well as doing some painting and landscaping.

Volunteers now have a new way to make an even greater impact, with a grants program called “Dollars for Doers,” in which some employers will honor your work as a volunteer by “matching” your efforts with a charitable donation of their own, often to the organization of your choice!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Sept. 28, 2015


Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. On Oct. 1, the UCF College of Arts and Humanities Alumni Chapter, and the Orlando Museum of Art, will host Eclectic Knights VII, part of OMA’s 16th season of 1st Thursdays. The event features more than 50 pieces of artwork, made exclusively by UCF alumni, faculty and staff.
  2. On Saturday, Oct. 3, the UCF Alumni Association will participate in beautification efforts at Orlando’s historic Greenwood Cemetery, as part of UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back. In addition, the UCF College of Sciences Alumni Chapter will assist the biology department’s efforts to restore degraded shorelines and oyster reefs at the Indian River Lagoon.
  3. UCF College of Business Administration student Jesse Wolfe, owner of O’Dang Hummus, will be featured on the Oct. 2 episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” with his company’s custom flavors of hummus and hummus-based salad dressings.
  4. UCF MedTalk returns on Oct. 7, when Dr. Annette Khaled will discuss “Tackling Breast Cancer,” as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This popular event, hosted by the UCF College and Medicine and UCF Alumni Association, presents informal talks about current and innovative issues in medicine in a casual setting.
  5. Former UCF student Rob Starkman launched Rock ‘Em Apparel from his college apartment, and has since brought in more than $1 million in revenue each of the last two years for his unique brand of socks, which include UCF designs.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Aug. 17, 2015


Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Knights on the Mall tailgating spots are up for grabs, as the new reservation system went live today for UCF’s first home game against FIU on Sept. 3.
  2. And, speaking of football, the Knights’ former QB Blake Bortles made his sophomore debut in Friday’s preseason game against the Steelers, helping to lead the Jags to a 23-21 victory!
  3. Alumna Jennifer Hamilton, ’14, turned her capstone project into multi-million-dollar Sleep/EEG Center for Nemours Children’s Hospital.
  4. Central Florida’s king of hummus, UCF student Jesse Wolfe, landed a deal with Publix Super Markets, which will now carry his new line of salad dressings.
  5. U.S. veterans are sharing personal stories about their service experiences to be preserved for future generations.

Veterans Share Stories through UCF History Project

A veteran shares his story of military life through UCF’s Community Veterans History Project.
(PHOTO: Courtesy of Tiffany Rivera)

By Bridgette Norris
Digital Producer, Central Florida Future

Sitting in his kitchen, Navy veteran Jim Middlekauff, ’99, tells the tale of a time many students today couldn’t imagine.

The UCF alumnus is one of many to share his personal story through the UCF Community Veterans History Project, an interdisciplinary campus project and collaboration of several different departments, which started in 2010 in support of the Regional Initiative for Collecting the History, Experiences and Stories of Central Florida.

“From my experiences, and the experiences of all veterans, students can learn that freedom is not free,” says Middlekauff, former assistant for the University Registrar for Veterans Services at UCF. “Veterans dedicate their lives through their service, and the Veterans History Project is a unique narrative where students can get a personal perspective of the life of a veteran and the role that military personnel have played in securing our freedom and way of life.”

Once the project came to campus, the departments quickly made a goal to serve as significant contributors to the national initiative, the Veterans History Project through the Library of Congress.

All veterans who served in the U.S. armed forces, on active or reserve status, are welcome to participate.

Eligible veterans can also be those who have experience in wartime and peacetime, served in combat units, supported units behind the lines, and trained and held administrative positions at home.

After the veterans are interviewed, the recordings are archived and preserved in the UCF Library’s Digital Collections. Interviews that meet the national project qualification of being at least 30 minutes long with no breaks or pauses are sent off to the national project.

“I came to this position with a true interest in supporting veterans … and a passion for veterans and their stories being told,” says Tiffany Rivera, assistant director of educational and training programs. “It is a way to get the public involved in their own history in ways that are relevant and that are outside of the traditional classroom.”

So far, the campus project has interviewed more than 400 veterans through varying methods.

For the first two years, students conducted the interviews either voluntarily or through a class.

Now, along with this approach, a peer-to-peer initiative has been adopted, through which participants in the project go out into the community and train residents to do interviews with their peers.

There are also corporate interview days when participants travel to corporations to conduct interviews with veterans who are employees at places such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and JHT Inc.

“Because the interviews are available online and accessible to the public, it’s a great way for researchers to find information they won’t be able to find in a textbook per se,” Rivera explains. “Some want students to understand what they have done and appreciate the freedom they have and sacrifices they have given.”

Initially, the project was collecting about 50 interviews per year, and now about 50 are conducted each semester. Rivera credits the increase in interviews to the community’s involvement and peer-to-peer interviews.

“I have learned that veterans are not always respected in the way they should be, and this project has taught me that each story is unique, each experience is unique and you don’t have to have some big combat story to have contributed,” she says.

As a 22-year veteran, Middlekauff says he felt obligated to assist with the project because valuable military history is being lost nationwide as the number of veterans of previous wars are declining.

“Military history is an important part of our country’s history,” he says. “This is a history that, without being told, would be lost forever.”

While the project has expanded to more than just student efforts, students still play a major role.

Daniel Bradfield, a former UCF graduate research assistant, says oral histories provide students with an opportunity to learn about individuals from a specific period of time and hear personal experiences with historical events and people.

“I enjoyed hearing people’s stories and using historical research to investigate people’s lives and adding their individual voices on a topic,” he says. “Additionally, I became interested with the interview process and building a valid and interesting oral history project.”

Any student is able and encouraged to get involved in the project.

“Our students do these interviews and walk away with their eyes huge because they have talked to someone who has experienced something really foreign to them,” Rivera says. “More and more families don’t have a service member, so hearing these stories is a unique opportunity.

“This project is a way to capture history while it’s still alive.”

This story appeared in an Aug. 6, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article. 

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