The phrase 'Hope is here' encompasses the mission, values and philosophy of Metropolitan Ministries, as impactful of an organization as one will find throughout the Tampa Bay community. On Monday afternoon, that mission was on full display with nearly three dozen children at the charity's Hillsborough County headquarters, thanks in part to support from some very special guests.
Buccaneers defensive end William Gholston, wide receiver Russell Shepard, Buccaneers Cheerleaders Kaila and Stephanie, and Captain Fear took time out of their busy schedules to carry on the team's annual tradition of participating in the Metropolitan Ministries Fall Festival.
"It doesn't take any effort to come out and make someone smile," said Shepard. "At the end of the day, one of the biggest things that you can do as a professional athlete is make someone else's dream."
For more than 20 years, the Buccaneers have served as special guests for the annual event, a brain child of the LampLighters (Ladies Assisting Metropolitan People), who host the festival for the resident children at Metropolitan Ministries.
"It's so very special, because for so many of these kids, they see the Buccaneers on television and when the actual team members walk in the building where they live, they scream with delight and joy," said Gwen Harmon, associate director of community relations at Metropolitan Ministries. "It means a lot to them and it means a lot to us to be able to provide that. For us, it's a wonderful partnership and it shows the kids that dreams really do come true, and we hope that players feel the same way."
For over 20 years, the Buccaneers have supported Metropolitan Ministries Fall Festival. Players, Cheerleaders and Captain Fear joined children and volunteers for a fun afternoon of activities.
On Monday afternoon, the Buccaneers entertained and interacted with the children through dancing, arts and crafts, and games, including an entertaining balloon-stuff contest.
"They just give you hope," said Shepard. "Sometimes you get caught up in the wins and losses, but a lot of times it's just about counting your blessings and knowing you are where you dreamed of being, you're living your childhood dream, you're doing a lot of what people dreamed of doing. It gives you a little more energy and a little more juice to go out and work a little harder and just continue to play for something bigger than just yourself, play for the community, and play for the people around you."
Metropolitan Ministries is a nonprofit, nondenominational, faith-based organization that provides assistance for poor and homeless families throughout the Tampa Bay area. Founded in 1972, the organization offers a wide spectrum of supportive services to alleviate suffering, promote human dignity and instill self-sufficiency.
"The children look forward to this every year," said Harmon. "This is their moment to take pictures with the Bucs, to go and tell their parents that they met the football players, and it's just an incredible experience for them."