At the 2006 season kick-off luncheon last August, Jets Owner Woody Johnson said, "While we must never lose sight of our goals on the field, we remain equally committed to performing our best off the field. I want to thank the players and coaches – each of whom takes the time to give back to our community. With this type of teamwork, there is nothing that we cannot achieve."
2006 marked an important year. With a new coaching staff, GM and plenty of rookie players, the Jets worked hard to return to playoff contender level. And, despite losing in the first round, they showed the determination, spirit and grit of a team with a very bright future.
But, the team also took Mr. Johnson's words to heart. In between the grueling Training Camp, daily workouts, game prep and meetings, the Jets organization touched the lives of tens of thousands of people through their community outreach programs this past year.
- New York Jets players made 329 community appearances;
- 99 player visits were made to children's wards of five local hospitals;
- Nearly 4,400 Jets items were donated to various charities helping raise more than $1 million for a variety of different causes;
- Four walkathons sponsored by the team raised nearly $1.4 million for the Alliance for Lupus Research;
- More than $1 million was raised for the United Way;
- Several new programs geared towards encouraging healthy nutrition and physical fitness were implemented in public schools across the tri-state area and;
- Existing programs such as Generation Jets Academy continued to flourish and grow.
The 2006 Marty Lyons Outstanding Community Service Award went to Jets Safety Erik Coleman for good reason. Coleman serves as the spokesperson for numerous Jets outreach programs. In October, 2006, Coleman visited Lehman High School in the Bronx to draw attention to the Jets "Feed Your Mind" campaign which encourages New York City public school students to eat healthy and stay fit. A PSA and promotional materials featuring Coleman offer sweepstakes prizes for parents and students who submit their breakfast and lunch family applications.
Coleman, who spent nearly every Tuesday this past season visiting local schools, community centers and hospitals, also helped the Jets launch the What Moves U campaign. Sponsored by the National Football League and the American Heart Association, the national campaign is designed to promote physical fitness and healthy living to an increasingly inactive generation of children. Speaking to several hundred elementary students at P.S./I.S. 266 in Queens, Coleman answered dozens of inquisitive questions about how he maintains a healthy lifestyle.
But, Coleman wasn't the only player to visit local schools this season. In October, Victor Hobson and team owner Woody Johnson visited Flushing High in Queens to announce their continued commitment to the Heads Up! Program. Through a partnership with the New York City Public Schools Athletic League, the program helps recondition every football helmet in the PSAL, ensuring that more than 4,000 students are safeguarded. Johnson also pledged to extend the Heads Up! Program into 2007 - committing to fund football programs for five additional New York City high schools and continuing to help recondition helmets for all student athletes.
In November, rookie offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson joined forces with Jets President Jay Cross and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine to announce the Eat Right, Move More campaign which encourages Garden State students to eat the nutritious foods now being offered in schools throughout the state.
The campaign features posters of Ferguson in every New Jersey school telling students, "When I have a healthy meal, it helps me play my best. Your school cafeteria has a variety of nutritious foods to keep you going all day long. So get up, eat right and move more!"
The Jets community involvement went beyond school visits - taking players to parks, hospitals and more.
As part of the NFL's Hometown Huddle Program, tight end James Dearth, cornerback Drew Coleman, defensive tackle Matt McChesney, safety Eric Smith, and offensive tackle Anthony Clement volunteered their time to make improvements to the entrance of Roy Wilkins Park in Flushing, Queens. And, Woody Johnson joined New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Congressman Charles Rangel and others to announce a $200,000 grant which will support the creation of a new football field in Harlem River Park.
Dozens of players also used their days off to visit the children's wards of local hospitals in New York and New Jersey bringing smiles, toys and holiday cheer to sick children. And, instead of visiting the Generation Jets Academy students at their school – the Jets treated the children to a movie night and to a shopping spree sponsored by Dick's Sporting Goods.
The Jets also worked with NFL Auction to give fans the opportunity to bid on ultimate fan experiences such as traveling with the team on the charter, dining with GM Mike Tannenbaum, serving as the captain for the coin toss and special pre-game sideline access. The money raised from each of those experiences went directly to the Jets Foundation which supports the team's extensive community work.
Johnson closed his remarks at the season kick-off with a few simple words: "One child at a time we can – and will – make a difference."
This year, the Jets community outreach efforts took a big step forward toward making good on that promise.