Hometown Huddle - Jets Neighborhood Playground Makeover 2008
Jets players have a demanding work week during the regular season. Tuesdays are often the lengthiest time they'll have to enjoy life outside of football.
This week, several Jets players left the green fields of the Atlantic Health Training Center to take part in a ceremony recognizing the renovations done to Beechcrest Park in Florham Park, N.J. The occasion was part of the NFL's annual Hometown Huddle — an NFL-wide day of service with United Way chapters across the nation.
Along with the many local kids and adults who attended the event were long-snapper James Dearth and members of the Jets' rookie class: Vernon Gholston, Dustin Keller, Dwight Lowery, Erik Ainge, Marcus Henry, Jehuu Caulcrick, Kenwin Cummings and Ropati Pitoitua.
Dearth is no stranger to community service. Having been involved with the Hometown Huddle program the past four years, he understands that giving back to kids and the community entails more than just throwing a few bucks toward a cause.
"Kids need to know that people care about them," said Dearth. "We could be anywhere we want to be today. We could be at home, we could be at a movie or whatever. But just us being able to come out here and give a little bit of time to the people in the community and to these kids, it just rings out that people care about you."
Florham Park mayor Scott Eveland, who helps coach a local second-grade football squad, the Florham Park Falcons, was working side by side with his players, the Jets and volunteers in completing final installations and shoveling mulch around the playground.
"Now this park, in the middle of a residential neighborhood that's home to hundreds of families with children, can attract kids out of the streets, from behind the video screens, into fresh air and healthy sports and other beneficial exercise," said Eveland.
Lowery spent some time on the new basketball court installing a net on one of the hoops. He spoke about the importance of being able to devote time to youth.
"It means everything," said the fourth-round cornerback, "not just as an NFL player but as a person that's been blessed with many things, to be able to come back and help the kids — not necessarily help them but just be around them — and try to be a positive influence, have some fun with them, and let them know that we're people, too, and we care about them"
The kids were in for a special treat as the day ended with teams being drawn for a short flag football game. The Jets were clearly having as much fun as the children in the game, which ended in a tie.
"Seeing these guys and working with them, finding out they're real people like everybody else, they're willing to pitch in, I think it means a lot to them," said John Franklin, CEO of United Way of Morris County. "The whole idea of teamwork, getting back to the United Way theme, that's what they're demonstrating there, so I think it's wonderful that they do this."
The entire project, estimated at close to $150,000, includes a fitness cluster in the play area, installation of a new basketball court, swings, park benches, a backstop and trash receptacles. Besides the Jets and the borough of Florham Park, sponsors for the project include Realogy Corporation, Burgdorff Realtors ERA, NFL Charities and United Way of Morris County.
"We're proud to call Florham Park home and look forward to getting more involved in this great community," said Matt Higgins, the team's executive vice president of business operations. "The Jets and our charitable foundation are committed to promoting youth health, fitness and education."