Players for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers deal with the media every day, answering questions about every aspect of their careers. When they interact with children, however, the conversation usually turns to matters that seem more important to young minds.
"You'd be surprised, the children really don't ask that many football questions," said cornerback Elbert Mack during a recent visit to the Metropolitan Ministries Partnership School. "They just want to know simple things like, 'Where is your mom? Where is your dad?'"
They often want to play simpler games than football, too, such as dancing and hula-hoop twirling. In that, too, the Buc players are happy to oblige, as Mack did enthusiastically during the Tuesday school visit he shared with teammates Myron Lewis, James Lee and Dekoda Watson.
On their one day off from football this week, the Buccaneer quartet accompanied members of the Buccaneers Cheerleaders on a visit to Metropolitan Ministries to interact with homeless citizens and at-risk students of Metropolitan Ministries Partnership School. Mack and company particularly enjoyed the opportunity to lead the children in dancing, games and activities.
"This is one of the most fun days that we have here at Metropolitan Ministries," said Tim Marks, the charitable organization's president. "It's a long-standing tradition for the Bucs to come out. Besides the loud noise, there are lots of smiling, happy faces. That's so important to our children if you think about some of the stresses that they've been under so early in their lives. This is a treat that they'll remember."
For more than 20 years, the Buccaneers have participated in the annual event, a brainchild of the LAMPLighters (Ladies Assisting Metropolitan People). This year's visiting Buccaneers deemed it not only a joy but a duty to put smiles on the faces of the resident children at Metropolitan Ministries.
"A lot of these kids have personal problems, and I think it's my job, not only as a football player, but as a person and a man, to spread good [will] to everybody else," Watson said. "That's what I love to do. I just love working with kids and being involved and putting a smile on their faces. It's something they're going to remember forever. It's a blessing, it really is."
Smiles were certainly in abundance on Tuesday when Watson entered a limbo competition with the kids. Meanwhile, Lee and Lewis joined kids on the dance floor, Mack competed in a hula hoop contest and cheerleaders led the young students in games.
"It was so much fun playing with the little kids and interacting with them," said rookie cheerleader Taylor Mock. "Just seeing the little kids smile and dance and have so much fun with no worries in the world has been an amazing experience. This is something I'll never forget. I had so much fun."
Though the kids at Metropolitan Ministries have been forced to face hardships at a young age, the faith-based organization strives to provide an atmosphere where students can mature and express themselves artistically and intellectually. Through after-school programs like the annual fall festival, children are able to interact with members of the community while not worrying about the daily struggles they encounter.
"We try not to let them know that they're going through hardships," Mack said. "We try to keep them positive and interact with them the best we can. As long as they're smiling, we're doing our job."
Mack, who has volunteered at Metropolitan Ministries for the past four years, says the visit is one he will never turn down. As for the Ministries, Marks says the organization is a place where Mack and his teammates will always be welcomed.
"The Buccaneers find time in their busy schedule to come in and give back to their kids," Marks said. "It means the world to us to see the Bucs do what so many others in our community do, and that is give back."
Metropolitan Ministries is a nonprofit, nondenominational organization that provides assistance for poor and homeless families through a wide spectrum of supportive services that alleviate suffering, promote human dignity and instill self-sufficiency. Much of the organization's efforts are targeted towards providing for children who have fallen victim to poverty and homelessness. Nearly 200 homeless children resided with their families at Metropolitan Ministries last year, and thousands more at-risk children were helped through the Outreach and Prevention Services.
For more information about what the Bucs are doing in the community, click here.