This Sunday afternoon, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Zeta Beta Tau fraternity will be joined by children from the Chicago-area Friendship Circle to raise awareness for autism, and money for programming for children with special needs.

More than a dozen children with autism and Down syndrome will spend the day on campus with their families. The children will play basketball with each other at a campus gym, enjoy a kosher lunch at the fraternity house and tour the university's grounds.

The event, dubbed "Alley-oop for Autism," is the brainchild of sophomore Jacob Hurwith, ZBT's philanthropy chair. The way he sees it, "it is much better to actually bring the children with special needs here and give them a good time than to just send money."

While campus-based clubs typically sponsor a community-service initiative each spring, Hurwith felt children with special needs were being ignored.

"I took training in high school, and I spent the last three summers working with" such children, he says. "I've always been interested in helping in this way."

When the basketball idea first came to him, Hurwith bounced it off Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, co-director of the school's Chabad Center for Jewish Life and a close friend. The rabbi loved the idea and encouraged Hurwith to run with it.

"Our Chabad center puts a big emphasis on community service," says Tiechtel, who co-founded the center with his wife Goldie in August 2003.

Besides for giving the children a memorable afternoon on the court, the Tiechtels see a singular benefit for the college students.

Says the rabbi: "Having the event on campus will leave an impression of community responsibility that I am sure will stay with the students throughout their lives."

Getting Off the Ground

Tiechtel put Hurwith in touch with Rabbi Zelik Moscowitz, director of the Friendship Circle of Illinois, based in Northbrook. As its name implies, the Friendship Circle provides assistance and friendship to children with special needs and their families. The organization's goal is to enrich the lives of children with special needs and those of its teenage volunteers through one-on-one interactions and group programming.

The call from Hurwith was very moving, says Moscowitz. "I was thrilled that college kids wanted to help in this way."

Moscowitz's involvement really got the ball rolling.

When he explained his vision to friends in other fraternities and sororities and asked them to co-sponsor an event benefiting the Friendship Circle, says Hurwitz, the response was overwhelming.

"I asked them to send five volunteers each," he relates. On average, "they are sending fifteen!"

All in all, 11 Greek houses joined up with ZBT in sponsoring the basketball game and luncheon. Volunteers will assist the children on the court, arrange the lunch party and show families around the campus.

In addition, Hurwith and his friends enlisted the star-power of Fighting Illinis' Demetri McCamey. The school's 6'4" point guard will be on hand to shoot some hoops and hang out with the kids.

Among the guests, Judy Lahfutte and her husband Rudy will be at the game with their 16-year-old daughter, Ahnnah, who has Down syndrome.

"I thought it was delightful that college students wanted to help children with special needs," says the mother.

Turning to the children, she adds: "There is so much we can learn from them. We tend to think we are teaching them, and it suddenly dawns on us, who is giving what?"

For his part, Hurwith thinks the event could portend further work between college students and children with special needs. He plans to make the game an annual affair, and says he wants to see other campuses follow suit.

For now, however, he is focused on getting this one game off the ground.

As it comes down to the buzzer, Hurwith admits the project has been more work than he'd thought it would be, but he's certain "it will be worth it on Sunday!"