United Way Team NFL partner Quinton Coples along with 11 New York Jets rookies broke ground with 20 Morris County children today at the Morris Plains, NJ, site of a new universal playground being designed for children of all abilities during the 15th annual Hometown Huddle, an NFL-wide day of service with United Ways across the nation.
In partnership with United Way of Northern New Jersey, the Jets and NFL Foundation contributed $40,000 to help complete the fundraising needed for the barrier-free, wheelchair-accessible playground at Central Park of Morris County. The playground, which costs $350,000, is a project of the Morris County Park Commission and The Alliance for Morris County Parks.
"I'm honored to be here with these kids and feel blessed to be able to impact their lives," said Coples, the Jets' second-year linebacker. "Seeing these kids out here having fun with the playground that's in the process of being built and just enjoying life is very humbling."
"By working together, we have shown that a private, public and nonprofit partnership can achieve tremendous results for all our residents," said John Franklin, United Way of Northern New Jersey CEO. "United Way is proud to join with the Jets and Morris County to see this playground become a reality and give all children in our community the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of exercise."
Jets players and the children, many of whom attend the P.G. Chambers School, helped put some of the finer touches on the landscaping around the future playground by planting trees. In addition to Coples, participating teammates included Oday Aboushi, T.J. Barnes, Tommy Bohanon, Will Campbell, Troy Davis, Dalton Freeman, Rontez Miles, Dee Milliner, Chris Pantale, Geno Smith and Zach Sudfeld.
"We're creating opportunities and memories," Smith, the rookie quarterback, said, adding he will definitely stop back down the road to check out his planted tree. "Anything to help these kids and to brighten their days I think is just priceless. To be out here to give a bit of our time is effortless to us."
"This is what you look forward to," Aboushi said. "It's a nice break from football and you get to give back to your community at the same time. Knowing that these kids have a bit of a disadvantage, to be able to help them out a bit more and give them something to look forward to and go play with is just a great feeling."
Once completed, the playground will be one of just a dozen around New Jersey that are fully accessible to children with disabilities. The playground will have two double-wide ramps to access equipment, as well as a variety of swings, slides and activity panels, all placed on a seamless, poured-in-place rubber safety surface. The park commission first embarked on this project in 2011 after receiving requests from parents whose children attend the P.G. Chambers School.
Timmy Dunne, 7, will be one of the many disabled children to benefit from the new playground. Timmy's unable to go all the way up on most playgrounds, his 10-year-old brother Joey explained, "because of the dangerous poles and different things he could get himself hurt on."
Timmy and Joey, along with some help from Milliner and Sudfeld, planted one of the trees on the playground site.
"It wasn't easy, but we got it done," Joey said. "I've gotten to hang out with Jets players, talk to all my friends, and just have fun with all the special-needs kids here. It's been a great day."
"It's a great thing to have something like this for children with disabilities," said Milliner, Joey's tree-planting partner. "You want to enjoy your childhood and be able to have somewhere to go to be comfortable and have fun. The Jets are doing a great thing here, and I'm glad to be a part of it."
The NFL and the Jets are committed to promoting youth health and fitness through the league's Play 60 program. Throughout the year, players and representatives from the Jets make appearances at schools and community events to encourage kids to be active for 60 minutes a day in order to reverse the trend of childhood obesity.
"We are very thankful for the commitment of the New York Jets and United Way," said Denise Lanza, assistant deputy director of the Morris County Park Commission. "It is so important for all children to be included and welcomed into playgrounds and parks."
Since 1999, the NFL has partnered with United Way for a league-wide day of service designed to bring awareness to the issue of youth health and fitness. During Hometown Huddle, NFL players, coaches and leadership participate in a variety of youth fitness projects in different NFL cities across the country on the same day, building fitness zones, hosting youth football clinics, rebuilding neighborhood playgrounds, and upgrading fitness facilities.