Part of the reason for the remarkable connection between the Notre Dame women's basketball program and its fans is the way in which the Fighting Irish players and coaches are so willing to give back to the South Bend and Michiana (Northern Indiana/Southwest Michigan) communities. Seldom does a week go by where members of the Notre Dame women's basketball team aren't front and center at some of the area's most important community events, from reading to grade-school children and mentoring youngsters on achieving success in life, to visiting pediatric cancer wards at local hospitals and spearheading fund-raising drives to beat cancer.
In 2009, Notre Dame started its unique "Heart of the Irish" community outreach program, an ongoing series of events that the Fighting Irish players and coaches have been taking part in around the South Bend area. In addition to those events previously mentioned, these "Heart of the Irish" gatherings have included youth basketball clinics, grade-school pep rallies to inspire children on the importance of reading and collecting book donations for area libraries as part of the team's annual preseason open practice.
For 2011-12, "Heart of the Irish" was expanded to include five cornerstone events at selected games during the season. These included Teddy Bear Toss (fans brought more than 2,000 stuffed animals and tossed them on the court at halftime for Riley Children's Hospital), Food For Friends (more than 2,000 pounds of non perishable food items collected for the Food Drive of St. Joseph County chapter of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society), Reading One On One (fans brought approximately 1,500 children's books to donate to libraries of eight South Bend primary schools), Pink Zone (raised more than $200,000 for breast cancer awareness), and Splish Splash (fans brought more than 3,000 pounds of bathroom supplies that were donated to help 1,800 women and children through the YWCA of North Central Indiana).
In addition, a special international program began in the summer of 2010, when selected members of the Notre Dame women's basketball team participated in "Operation Jumpball" and now annually visit Jamaica to deliver basketball supplies and hold basketball clinics in impoverished neighborhoods around that Caribbean nation.
The tradition of giving back to the community that supports them so much was never more apparent than in 2009-10, when the Fighting Irish recorded more than 325 hours of individual community service (an average of 25 hours per person) and were honored with the Notre Dame athletic department's Trophy Award, which is presented annually to the Fighting Irish athletics team that compiles the most community service hours in a given academic year.
The Notre Dame women's basketball program also has been breaking new ground each year in fundraising for the annual Pink Zone initiative (also known as Play4Kay), a national campaign to generate donations and awareness for finding a cure for breast cancer. During the past four seasons, the Fighting Irish have raised nearly $500,000 for the Pink Zone drive, far and away the most donations collected by any NCAA Division I program. That includes a record-setting total of $204,682 that Notre Dame raised during the 2011-12 season, the third consecutive season the Fighting Irish have not only topped six figures in their Pink Zone fundraising total, but also led the nation in that category.