RB Cadillac Williams has an easy way with children and it helps him inspire the youth he meets in places such as St. Vincent's Center in Baltimore
When Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Carnell Williams attended the Ed Block Courage Awards in Baltimore last week, he joined other current players, distinguished NFL alumni and city dignitaries in celebrating the principles of sacrifice and determination for which the awards stand.
However, Williams' fondest memory from the trip did not actually involve receiving the award. During three days of events associated with the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, the annual banquet was only one small part of the celebration, and there were dozens of other interactions to cherish.
Several such moments occurred during visits Williams and his NFL peers made to St. Vincent's Center and the Chick Webb Recreation Center, where he learned the true meaning of the Ed Block award.
"Sometimes we as humans complain about things here and there, but then you go to a place like that where kids have been abused and their parents don't want them or are unable to care for them," he said. "Just to spend that time with them and put smiles on those kids' faces...I could just see the glow in their eyes. It made me feel really good."
The first stop was at St. Vincent's, a facility in North Baltimore that provides residential treatment and diagnostic services to approximately 70 children. Ranging from ages three to 13, these kids are unable to live in a family setting due to severe emotional and behavioral challenges often caused by child abuse. Along with residential care for the children, St. Vincent's offers programs to educators, parents, children, mental health professionals, law enforcement and the general public that focus on abuse prevention education, training and awareness.
"They're just normal kids," said Williams. "When they saw us and how we interacted with them, they weren't star struck, they were just happy to have a role model in there which was really humbling."
Along with such fellow award-winners as Detroit Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson and Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, Williams joined the youth in board games and a few hands of cards before leading them outside to enjoy the mild Baltimore weather. Amid melting piles of snow, Williams and Minnesota Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson led one group of youngsters in a spirited game of touch football while many others kicked soccer balls, swung on the swings and ran circles around the playground.
The visit to St. Vincent's has become an annual tradition for players attending the banquet, thanks to its relationship with the Baltimore Ravens and the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation. Having been selected by the Ravens as the team's "Courage House," St. Vincent's works with the Ravens and the Foundation to raise funds and awareness for the at-risk children it serves. St. Vincent's is one of 21 "Courage Houses' sponsored by NFL teams throughout the country, including the Buccaneers' Courage House, the House of Hope Tampa Bay.
"One of the lucky things that happens here in Baltimore is, these kids they have at St. Vincent's, these kids that are at the Chick Webb Rec Center that maybe don't have role models, for a day, they have a guidance or role model for them, they have a guy they can look up to and spend four or five hours with," said Paul Mittermeier, director of communications for the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation. "If you can bring these guys in from the NFL and change one life, it's worth it, even if it's just one. If it's 10, if it's 20, it's great, but to be able to bring these guys in and have them give back to the community, it's unbelievable, and it's something that Baltimore's very lucky to have."
Added Williams: "There's no doubt that we were enjoying it as much as the kids. We had a couple football games going, I know there was a lot going on around there. We as players were really enjoying it. We were talking on the bus afterwards about some of the kids and some of the things that were going on. It was a good atmosphere."
That atmosphere continued on into the afternoon at the Chick Webb Rec Center, where the group spent a couple hours shooting pool, playing table tennis and talking with youth from East Baltimore. Though Williams found himself a popular target for an autograph request or a photo, he was sure to pass along an encouraging word or piece of advice to those in search of a more lasting memento.
"In his interaction with the young people I've seen the generous spirit that he has, that he's stepped forward, and that he's really put himself at the level of the kids and really has shown a lot of humility with the boys," said Lewis Mustard, executive director of the House of Hope Tampa Bay. "So I was really touched with what I saw Cadillac doing with the young people and I'm really excited about how our relationship that he has with House of Hope Tampa Bay can be fostered moving forward."
In the fall of 2009 the Buccaneers officially announced the House of Hope Tampa Bay as its "Courage House", a process that began two years ago when 2007 Courage Award winner Jeff Garcia received his award in Baltimore. Following his visit, Garcia pledged to start a "Courage House" in Tampa, and with the help of the team's community relations department eventually selected the House of Hope Tampa Bay.
Now in 2010, it is evident that Williams plans to carry the torch in Florida.
"Just from coming up here and seeing the whole experience and hearing the different stories from the kids and what goes on, it really inspires you," said Williams. "You really have a feel for them, so I really am looking forward to going back to Tampa and getting more and more involved with this and seeing if we can't get it going bigger in Tampa."
Added Mustard: "Certainly, our relationship with the Bucs is an advantage to us because it puts our names and faces out to the community in a way that otherwise we couldn't do. The Bucs have a tremendous relationship with the community in a positive way and if we can be a part of that in any way, it's a great benefit to us. Ultimately, it's about helping the teenagers in the community and their families. If through this network and this relationship we can benefit them, then it's all positive and all good."