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''This is a Memory That They Will Remember''

''This is a Memory That They Will Remember''

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Gina Joseph had a hard time wiping the smile off her face.

Near where she stood in the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility on Sunday afternoon, a hotly contested game of touch football raged, with Hurricanes linebackers Francisco Mauigoa and Ryan Ragone directing an eager group of youngsters through routes and blocking schemes.

At the other end of the facility, some children colored Thanksgiving decorations, while still others played board games or tossed beanbags at cornhole boards spread across the turf.

And set up throughout the building were tables filled with turkeys, hams, and all of the other essentials for a memorable Thanksgiving feast – essentials Joseph, her children and 29 other families from the Miami-Dade County Foster and Adoptive Parent Association would be able to take home, thanks to the Hurricanes and their third annual Day of Giving with the Canes event.

“It makes a great difference because as a foster parent taking care of kids, sometimes you don’t have the time to go out and do all the things you normally have to do and prepare,” Joseph said. “But more than that, this gives these children the opportunity to see what it’s like in an actual college setting, which is very important to them. Some of them may not think they can make it there due to their circumstances, but they can see that these players here have come from all parts and walks of the world. They also have different backgrounds, and they can see, ‘Wow, if they can be here, maybe I can be here too.’ That makes a great difference.”

Said Shamele Jenkins, the executive director of the Miami-Dade County Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, “This is so special. And I know that it means a lot to the guys, but they’ll never know how much it means to these kids. Not only does this let them know that somebody else cares for them, but they can see that these guys made it to college and so can they. … Last year, some of the guys were really able to talk to the kids and say, ‘Oh, I come from Overtown’ or ‘I come from Fort Lauderdale and my grandmother raised me’ or whatever the case may be. It helps let these kids know that they’re not alone in this situation and that’s so, so important. … They’re having fun and that’s what all this means. This is a memory that they will remember.”

And for their part, the Hurricanes were more than happy to provide that encouragement – and a whole lot more.

For them, the day started bright and early, with several navigating the aisles at a grocery store near Miami’s campus to find all the ingredients necessary to complement each family’s meal.

They good-naturedly argued over which kind of pasta would be best for macaroni and cheese. They debated the merits of pumpkin pie for dessert versus sweet potato or apple pie. And they hunted down the best values they could find, looking for ways to give each family as much as possible for their Thanksgiving tables.

“Ten out of ten. I loved it,” smiled running back Terrell Walden II of his shopping experience. “I loved every part of it.”

Once the shopping was done, meal boxes were decorated, packed, and set up ahead of the families’ arrivals.

Then, the fun began, with the Hurricanes introducing themselves to each of the families in attendance and taking the children throughout the facility to play games and spend time together.

This year’s Day of Giving was the largest to date, with 30 families participating, an increase from 20 families last year and 10 families at the inaugural event in 2021.

“This is a very special experience, you know? I love spending my time with kids. Love it. When kids smile, it just makes my day and day like today, you just forget about everything,” Mauigoa said. “So, I’m just glad to do this. I love this community and hope to do even more.”

Added fellow linebacker Corey Flagg, Jr., “It’s always good to give back and help out as best as I can, especially for this community and for kids. Because as a kid, you’re supposed to have fun and enjoy life. To put a smile on a kid’s face, it’s worth the world.”

While Sunday’s event may have benefitted an organization that provides support to foster and adoptive families throughout South Florida, it’s just one of several community engagement opportunities the Hurricanes have participated in in recent months.

The Hurricanes have also spent time visited local schools, summer camps and children’s hospitals. They’ve volunteered at the Miami-Dade Animal Shelter and provided meals at the Miami Rescue Mission.

All of that, the Hurricanes say, has made a difference during their Miami experience.

“It means a lot to me because in my own community, Miami Gardens, there’s a lot of things going on. … And Miami does put a very big emphasis on helping our communities when we can,” Walden said. “We do a lot of things in the offseason, in the spring. We make the time. A lot of us are Miami natives, so it means a lot to all of us to just give back however we can.”

With Sunday’s event now behind them, the Hurricanes will continue their preparation for Friday’s regular-season finale at Boston College.

But even before they left the field at the indoor facility to dive back into team meetings and film study, more than a few of the Hurricanes were already suggesting ways to make next year’s event even more memorable.

“It’s truly so special. And I think this year, we really figured out how to get everybody involved in different ways,” said Jessica Hurley, Miami’s assistant director of student-athlete development. “We had a great group get to go this morning, take on the Publix [shopping] and feel a part of the day in that way. Then we had lots of guys here decorating and getting the Kroger delivery. Then to see it all come together and see the families walk in and the tears and the laughs, seeing the guys teaching every step of the way, whether it was the football or the games, whatever they were engaged in, it was amazing. It was absolutely amazing.”