At first, Patricia Monnell thought the phone call was a prank. Pretty soon, she was in tears.
The call came from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had received a very special letter submitted by Charlie, Monnell's nephew. Charlie had spun a very compelling story about his aunt's generosity and love.
"Well, at first I thought it was a solicitor," said Monnell of the Buccaneers' call. "I said, 'Is this a joke?' She said, 'No, this is not a joke. It's about Charlie writing a letter.' When she said that, I started crying right away."
They were tears of joy. Monnell had been selected for the Buccaneers' second annual "Mother's Day Makeovers," a program that provides a full day of pampering, a new wardrobe and an evening out with friends and family to five local moms in honor of Mother's Day.
"She said this was for a makeover for you, and I said, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" said Monnell. "I've never had anything like that done for me. I've never ridden in a limo, especially. I was so excited, I couldn't stop crying."
More than 300 fans logged on to Buccaneers.com this spring to nominate a deserving mother for this year's makeover program. In selecting the winners, the team searched for particularly compelling stories of mothers who focused their time and efforts on caring for others.
"These mothers have sacrificed greatly for their families and for their children, and we wanted to honor them not only with new clothes and new hairdos and makeup, but to show them how much their families love them," said Miray Holmes, the Buccaneers' director of community relations. "I think that was the internal side, to show the appreciation that their families had for them."
Charlie, Monnell's 11-year-old biological nephew, had recently submitted the nomination with the help of Monnell's husband, Lamonte. Monnell's sister passed away when Charlie was only a year old as a tragic victim of domestic violence. She and Lamonte have cared for him ever since as if he was one of their own.
"He's our son, he's always been our son, and he's a special boy," said Monnell. "He's very smart, just like our other two sons, and he's growing up to be a man. This letter means the world to me. I was hoping I would get a copy of his letter so I could put it in my Bible and have it with me every day."
On Wednesday, Monnell indeed received a copy of Charlie's letter and a whole lot more, thanks to the Buccaneers. She was invited to the team's headquarters where the day began with breakfast alongside Judy Davis, Pat Denham, Lisa Marie Gritzinger and Ansley Henderson, the four other makeover recipients. Following the morning meal, the group departed in a limousine for a local retail store, where each mother was paired with a personal shopper - in this case, a Buccaneers employee or former Bucs cheerleader - to commence a shopping spree.
"I'm looking forward to spending time with other mothers, because with my schedule, I don't get a lot of time to hang out with my friends and most of them aren't mothers," said Gritzinger at the start of the day. "So to be able to talk to other mothers about children and child raising and get their side of their stories will be pretty awesome."
Gritzinger, an active member of the National Guard* *who is set to deploy to Afghanistan within a year, admitted that motherly conversation wasn't the only part of the day she eagerly anticipated.
"I mean, I am looking forward to the shopping and the pampering," she said. "I hope [my family] sees that I can take a break from my busy schedule and be able to do my hair and makeup and stuff like that. I just want them to be happy for me."
Following the shopping spree, the women gathered back in the limousine and headed to a nearby salon, where they were provided lunch by Publix before having their hair and makeup done. This proved to be particularly enjoyable for Monnell.
"The most exciting thing is I've wanted my hair to get frosted," said Monnell. "I used to do it years ago when I worked. I've had a lot of medical problems, but I would really like to get my hair frosted again because my husband and kids always loved my hair frosted."
With hair, makeup and nails complete, the group reconvened for dinner back at One Buccaneer Place. The made-over mothers were escorted into the dining hall - this time filled with their families and friends - by Buccaneers Assistant Offensive Line Coach Tim Holt, Head Coach Raheem Morris, Special Teams Coordinator Dwayne Stukes, Director of Player Development Eric Vance and Wide Receivers Coach Eric Yarber. As each mother revealed her new look, the room filled with cheers and applause from the approving guests.
In the eyes of Pamela Henderson, the makeover nomination for her step daughter-in-law was well-deserved. Ansley Henderson and her husband, Ryan, have dedicated their lives to Kaia, their seven-year-old daughter. Kaia was born with an unknown medical condition that has caused relentless seizures and debilitated her growth and development. Henderson has made great sacrifices to provide constant care and supervision for their daughter, including leaving her job and postponing school.
"To Ryan and Ansley, she's just like any other little girl to them," said Pamela. "They have loved her the whole time and have really done everything they can to make her life as full as possible. They love to ring the doorbell to make her laugh and things like that, and they've just been great parents in a very difficult situation."
For at least a little while, Henderson got a chance to relax and enjoy a day all her own.
"I got to be pampered and meet wonderful new people," said Henderson. "It was an amazing day, it feels really good."
A behind-the-scenes tour of One Buccaneer Place, where the group members posed for photos in front of their favorite players' lockers and held a mock press conference in the team's media room, helped bring to a close a memorable day for five special moms.
In fact, Henderson needed only one word to describe the experience: