Women’s hockey captain Alli Rolandelli ’16 was named the winner of the 2016 Sarah Devens Award last week, an annual award recognizing leadership and commitment both on and off the ice.
The award, named after Dartmouth’s Sarah Devens, who died in 1995 during her senior year, is given to one women’s hockey player in either the ECAC or Hockey East conferences. Rolandelli is the second Brown athlete to receive the award, following in the footsteps of 2001 winner Christina Sorbara ’01.
Rolandelli first began work in the Providence community her freshman year, volunteering in a first-grade classroom at Fox Point Elementary School. A project she has stuck with all four years at Brown, she calls the Thursday meetings with the first-graders her “favorite part of the week.”
Rolandelli’s passion for helping children was inspired by her late mother, who dedicated her work to children as a day-care provider before her passing in 2014. “Kids are really important to our future,” she said. “If we can help them learn, enjoy themselves or be some sort of a role model, that’s something that I find really fun.”
After taking a leave of absence from Brown in 2014, Rolandelli returned to school with an even greater drive to give back to Providence. “I felt like I needed to do more,” she said. “I wanted to tie in my mom’s passion and my passion for helping kids also with helping those who have cancer.”
She became familiar with a program founded in her native state of Minnesota called Love Your Melon, started in 2012 by two college students “with the simple idea of putting a hat on every child battling cancer in America,” according to the LYM website. Rolandelli was successful in starting a “crew” of Brown athletes affiliated with the organization to begin work in Providence in May 2015.
With beanies in hand, the crew regularly visits local children’s hospitals dressed as superheroes to spend time with children battling cancer. The group also organizes fundraisers for cancer research, recently conducting a fundraiser affiliated with a foundation called Shoot For A Cure. The crew, predominantly comprised of Brown hockey players on the women’s and men’s teams, successfully raised over $9,000.
The crew’s future presence at Brown became uncertain when Rolandelli was notified by the Brown Compliance Office that her work with Love Your Melon could be considered an NCAA violation for selling commercial products. Determined to continue her cause, Rolandelli worked closely with then-Assistant Director of Athletics for Compliance Eric Schneider to write a waiver to the NCAA, explaining the nature of the program and petitioning for the crew to be allowed to continue its work.
The waiver was approved, allowing student-athletes not only at Brown, but nationwide, to participate in the program. There are now over 700 crews across the country, many led by student-athletes, up from around 150 when Rolandelli brought the program to Brown.
Rolandelli also volunteered with the Rhode Island Special Hockey Program, teaching children and adults ages 4-22 with disabilities to skate.
On the ice, Rolandelli was a two-year captain for the Bears, unanimously voted into the position by her teammates.
First-season Head Coach Bob Kenneally ’90 knew that Rolandelli’s leadership would be an asset to the program from the day he met her in 2015.
“I realized right away what an amazing young woman she was — she had so much grace and class. She’s such a great leader in her own way,” he said. “Her mom has passed down some qualities to Alli that show how much she cares about people. It’s completely genuine, and it’s something I really respect her for.”
Rolandelli said her community service work at Brown has helped her find herself and has illuminated what most energizes her. “I find a passion in it,” she said. “Not only does it help others, but it helps me. I learn so much from the kids I work with and from all the community members.” A health and human biology concentrator, she plans to attend dental school after graduation, possibly using the $10,000 scholarship connected with the award to fund her further studies.
For Rolandelli, the title of Division I athlete is something that means much more than wearing a Brown jersey and competing in the Ivy League.
“Athletes are put on this stage where they have a great avenue to the community,” she said. “I feel as if it’s our responsibility to use that stage to reach out to the community and influence these kids and show them that being an athlete is way more than performing on the ice.”