When Catherine Breed, a distance freestyler for Cal’s women’s swimming & diving team, received the Walter A. Haas Jr. Community Service Award during a ceremony honoring student-athletes in early May, she held a tangible honor that she may actually list on her resume.
Active in a range of volunteer activities as a student now at Cal and previously at Pleasanton’s Amador Valley High School, Breed has long viewed community service more as a responsibility than something to brag about to a potential employer.
Despite her involvement in such endeavors as Special Olympics, the Boys & Girls Club of Oakland and helping underprivileged children during two separate visits to the Dominican Republic with Athletes in Action, the first time Breed sat down to create a resume, she couldn’t think of anything extracurricular to add beyond swimming.
“It never crossed my mind,” Breed said of her volunteer efforts.
An integrative biology major who plans to attend medical school, Breed has long aspired to be a doctor – as a kindergartner she even said she wanted to grow up to be a pediatric oncologist – and plans to study for the MCATs this summer.
As with the medical field, Breed’s desire to help others has guided her interests outside of the pool. In addition to volunteering with Special Olympics in high school, she also assisted with a special education class, where she developed a particularly strong bond with one student who suffered from Smith-Magenis syndrome, a developmental disorder that can affect many parts of the body.
Breed didn’t fully realize the impact she had made on the student’s life until a recent phone she received. Nearly three years after Breed had enrolled at Cal, the student called just to share how excited she was to have a boyfriend.
“She said, ‘I miss you. I love you. I think about you all the time,’” Breed recalled. “I need to stay in touch with her. It’s not fair for me not to do that.”
Similarly, Breed created several special relationships with children she has met during two spring-break trips to the Dominican Republic. This past March, a young orphan named Gabriel played with a purple bracelet Breed kept on her water bottle with the word PERSEVERANCE printed on it. So toward the end of her trip and with the help of a translator, Breed shared the story behind the token.
The bracelet was distributed at the candlelight service honoring Ted Agu following his untimely death in February. Breed told Gabriel about the former Cal football player, his zest for life and the meaning of perseverance.
“I let him keep it,” Breed said. “I don’t know what that bracelet means to him or if he understood. In my mind, he does and I hope he understands that when things are hard, he’ll keep persevering.”
Closer to home, Breed began visiting the Boys & Girls Club in West Oakland with other Golden Bear student-athletes each Wednesday during the fall. While she called the outings a “reset for my day,” the interactions will undoubtedly help inspire her to volunteer even more.
“You could just sense that many of these kids felt they had no chance and were full of hopelessness,” Breed said. “I’d tell them, ‘Yes, you can read. Let’s pull out a book and learn how to read right now.’ It’s one thing to write a check to an organization, but it’s another to actually go and be physically there to help.”
With the Haas Community Service Award, Breed has clear evidence of her worthy actions