"It's Something They'll All Remember"
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – As Priscilla Walker took in the scene around her, she fought back tears.
Some of her children were tossing around a ball and getting tips from members of the Hurricanes football team. Others learned routines from Miami’s cheerleaders. Some colored gratitude rocks with a group of Hurricanes swimmers and divers who were on hand, too.
And she knew that when the night was over, they would be taking home a Thanksgiving meal put together earlier by members of the football team, some of whom had picked out pies at a nearby grocery store while others packed hams, turkeys and sides in boxes put together specifically for each family.
It was all overwhelming in so many ways.
“When we first stepped in here, they showed us the box and it meant a lot because the first words out of my daughter’s mouth were ‘Oh, now Mommy doesn’t have to go to the supermarket tomorrow to get a turkey. We have one.’ So they’re very appreciative of that,” Walker said. “And then having special needs children, children that will never be able to play a contact sport, having the opportunity to run around and interact with the football players, it meant so much to them. For the older kids here, I think it’s really good because they see the value of going to college and giving back. They see that this can be their life…it’s amazing.”
For the second straight year, the Hurricanes football team welcomed families from the Miami-Dade County Foster and Adoptive Parent Association to the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility to not only provide a holiday meal, but share a few smiles, too.
And for more than a few Hurricanes, the opportunity to give back to the community – especially at this special time of year – wasn’t something they took for granted.
“This is so important. I know people that have gone through similar experiences as some of these kids and you know, it’s important to give back when you’re able,” Miami offensive lineman Jalen Rivers said. “I enjoy that we do this every year…I like seeing the smiles on people’s faces. I know they’ve gone through some rough patches and they’ve been through some tough things. When they can put all that aside and come here and really enjoy themselves, see them having fun and running around with us, that’s my highlight.”
Added quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, “They’re going to remember this for a while. It’s just special to give back to them and know that it’s about more than football. It’s about life and caring and giving.”
Monday’s event was one of several community outreach events the Hurricanes have been a part of in recent months.
Over the summer, members of Miami’s football team volunteered at Miami-Dade Animal Services, visited with families at Lotus House and spent time at local elementary schools.
Long snapper Clay James, specifically, has earned recognition for his efforts in the community.
Earlier this month, he was named one of 12 national semifinalists for the Wuerffel Trophy, college football’s premier award for community service.
All of that, Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal said, is essential to the Miami experience.
“It’s part of their developmental process right here,” Cristobal said at Monday’s event. “One of the greatest things we can have is gratitude, right? And one of the best ways to express our gratitude is to give back to others…Look at all the little ones running around, looking up to them. It’s critically important. This helps them become better future fathers and husbands and leaders…And we want to be completely connected to our community. We always want to represent the best we can and we always want to help in any way we can as well. So this is a big, big day for the University of Miami.”
The players’ ability to inspire some of the children in her program was part of what made Monday’s event so special for Shamele Jenkins, the executive director of the Miami-Dade County Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.
The association provides support to foster and adoptive families, non-relative caregivers and the children in their care – some of whom have endured experiences no child should endure.
Eighteen of those families went home with meals and memories after Monday’s event, as did some of the children from His House, a children’s home in Miami Gardens.
To see all of those youngsters enjoying themselves, Jenkins said, meant the world to her.
“This makes a difference. It makes a big difference. And for me, as a caregiver, I just know we’re opening up an opportunity for a lot of them,” Jenkins said. “This is going to be a memory for them…For each person, it’s going to be something different, but it’s something they’ll all remember.
“For the University to do this, it’s giving back. It’s letting us know we’re all part of the same pot and we can all teach one another and share with one another. It’s not a thing of color, it’s not a thing of economic status. It’s young people of different generations being together…It’s compassion. It shows they have a heart.”