It's not every day that you get invited to an NFL facility for a day of surprises from the team's star wide receiver. But, that's exactly what happened to thirteen 5th grade students from the Buccaneers Academy, Sulphur Springs Elementary.
Mike Evans and his wife, Ashli, have spent the past week commemorating the launch of the Mike Evans Family Foundation and capped the week off with high-achieving students from the local K-8 school. Students were invited on a field trip to One Buccaneer Place for demonstrating excellence in the classroom and in their community. What they didn't know was the tour would be hosted by Evans and his family.
As Mike and Ashli walked students through the state-of-the-art facility, they learned of his favorite meal from the team dining hall, etouffee, while also discovering his hidden talent, juggling. A handy skill for the play-making wide receiver that received Play of the Year for his one-handed catches during NFL Honors this year.
The Mike Evans Family Foundation will impact youth just like the ones strolling through One Buccaneer Place with Mike and his family. One of the platforms of his foundation will provide financial-based scholarships to college bound students.
"We wanted to give back to kids and make it possible for them to go further in school," says Evans. "College is a great experience. I was fortunate enough to have an athletic scholarship, but I know what it's like for other students."
Mike and Ashli also wanted to reward the students for their accomplishments and spent the past few weeks secretly collecting their holiday wish lists.
"Hard work pays off," shared Evans as students darted to the personalized bags containing everything they'd hoped for.
Stirred by his childhood, and more importantly the people who mentored him through the toughest moments, the Mike Evans Family Foundation will also offer assistance to families displaced due to domestic violence. A matter that is personal to both Mike and his wife.
"It was tough…it changed my life forever," says Evans. "I had a lot of great role models to show me and my Mom how to fight through it. It inspired me to live my life to the fullest and help others along the way."
During their week of service, Mike and Ashli hosted a special holiday dinner at a local women's shelter where they spent time sharing their stories with the residents.
"We know how tough it is for kids, especially during the holidays. We wanted to shed some light and show them this is not the end, says Evans. "Don't let one thing keep you down. Keep fighting and be the best you can be."
Mike and his family began the week with a fundraising dinner, attended by teammates and donors from the Tampa community. Mike says the foundation will focus its services in his hometown of Galveston, Texas and right here in Tampa, but with time, he hopes to expand and provide greater opportunities for children and families.
"If you work hard, we want to help. Kids deserve that chance, and we want to help provide it," Evans concludes.