QB Shaun King helped 50 families in his hometown enjoy the season by providing complete holiday meals
When Shaun King wanted to play youth football growing up in St. Petersburg, he would head to the Childs Park Recreation Center. It was during one of those walks that King made a promise to himself: When he found a success in life, whether in football or in business, he would come back to Childs Park and repay the community and people that helped him achieve his dreams.
King has kept that promise.
On Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' fourth-year quarterback headed back to Childs Park for his third annual holiday extravaganza, one of the ways he has helped to improve his boyhood community since being drafted by the hometown team.
This year, as King entered the Childs Park Rec Center, he was greeted with rousing cheers from the assembled boys and girls. Before he began distributing holiday treats to the club members, King sat down to discuss his childhood and answer questions from the kids sitting in a circle around him.
King spoke about how the Childs Park facility had changed. None of the fancy playground equipment now in place was there when King was growing up, but the spirit and essence of the center remain as he remembered them, upbeat and positive. He also told the kids that they can become anything they want, that they should dream big and, when they succeed, they should not forget where they are from.
With his message sent, King decided it was time to distribute his holiday gifts.
"God blesses us so that we can be a blessing," said King. "This is something little that I can give back and maybe make Christmas better for another family."
King, in fact, did just that for many residents, providing a holiday meal that included a Christmas turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green beans, corn, assorted fresh fruit, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, apple juice and a fresh baked pumpkin pie to 50 families that attend the Childs Park center. In addition to the meals, the families also received a Christmas tree courtesy of the St. Pete native.
"This is a great blessing," said Tonya, one of the recipients. "For Shaun to give back to those who may not be as fortunate in his hometown is a great blessing. We're all overjoyed."
A good night's sleep on a comfortable bed is something many of us take for granted. Over the past few months, however, that simple thing had become an increasing concern for the residents at Brookwood, a licensed therapeutic group home for adolescent girls ages 13-20 who are victims of abuse, neglect, violence or other family dysfunction.
Jeff Christy, veteran center for the Buccaneers, quietly eased that concern.
"This year he rescued us by bringing beds," said Pam Mesmer, the Executive Director at Brookwood. "We were bringing more kids in than ever before during the holiday season and we didn't have enough beds."
Christy, who has worked tirelessly with the home behind the scenes since his coming to Tampa, heard of Brookwood's dilemma and decided to do something about it. He purchased 12 new mattresses and box springs for the ladies to help them meet the housing needs for the residents.
"Jeff just has a heart of gold," said Mesmer. "And he rescued us this year. Now, we have new beds for new girls and we appreciate all that he does for us."
Christy didn't just purchase the beds, he also paid a visit to Brookwood immediately after the beds were delivered to make sure the girls were staying within the rules of the program and, of course, to wish the girls a Merry Christmas.
Brookwood also had a few surprises for Christy and his family. First, the Christys were greeted by a giant thank you banner signed by all the residents and staff of Brookwood. Second, Christy's three young children were presented with stuffed animals picked out by the residents. And third, a Buccaneers-decorated cake was waiting for the residents and Jeff to share to honor his donation.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Christy. "I wish I could do more. If this makes their holiday season, then it's worth it and hopefully through this program they can change their lives around."
According to Mesmer, Christy and his family have a lot to do with Brookwood having its desired impact on residents.
"It means a lot," said Mesmer of the Christys, whom she considers part of the Brookwood family. "There's whole different dimension that Jeff brings when he visits. He brings his wife and he brings his three children and it gives our girls an opportunity to see a beautiful healthy family and interact with people that care about them from the outside, in addition to their Brookwood moms."
For more information on Brookwood, please call (727) 822-4789.
On the surface, Lawrence Brown comes off like just about any 17-year old kid. He has a shy smile and a quick wit, goes to Blake High School and loves the Buccaneers. His favorite players are John Lynch, Dexter Jackson, Ronde Barber and Aaron Stecker.
Lawrence, however, has another enormous factor in his life with which most teenagers, fortunately, don't have to contend: a battle with leukemia and the chemotherapy used to combat the disease.
On Friday, the Buccaneers made Lawrence forget his worries, if even for just a while, as he was the players' invited guest at a closed practice session. Close enough to hear every hit and see every play unfold, Lawrence watched his favorite team prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 90 minutes, then met his heroes as they left the practice field.
All four of Lawrence's favorite players spent time chatting with their guest, as did most of their teammates. Most notable were long conversations with Lynch and Jackson about football and school. Both defensive backs handed over their playing gloves to Lawrence as they said goodbye, allowing the young Buc fan to hatch the perfect plan. Jackson's gloves, which he requested to be left unsigned, would be for wearing. Lynch's gloves, on which he got a signature on both palms, would be for display.
After a fun-filled afternoon spent in the company of his favorite Buccaneer players, Lawrence was ready to head home to show his friends the gifts he had received and share the memories he had made.
Near to His Heart
Joining Christy, King and his other Buc teammates in helping children celebrate the holidays, Pro Bowl LB Derrick Brooks hosted his sixth annual Christmas Party for members of the Belmont Heights and Ybor City Boys & Girls Clubs.
Each year at his party, Brooks distributes Nike tennis shoes and gifts to the most needy members of the clubs. As usual, the children were presented with the gifts on Tuesday evening, but Brooks made them promise not to open them until Christmas morning.
As Brooks called each child by name, he presented them with a wrapped box containing their Christmas gift. Thirty members at each club receive the special holiday present from Brooks, with 15 receiving shoes and 15 receiving other gifts they need.
"You're celebrating the joy of the season," said Brooks. "But more importantly, this is an opportunity to give back. These centers are very dear to my heart and any time I have the opportunity to help out a family or kid at these centers, I'm going to take advantage of it."
Indeed. For the sixth straight year, Brooks has taken the opportunity to help those less fortunate during the holiday times.