The Randall's Island Sports Foundation honored Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on Thursday evening at Skylight Solo in New York City for his philanthropic efforts.
"We did a little homework and Mark Sanchez stands for the things that we stand for," said RISF co-chair Jerry Goldman. "He's very concerned about the inner-city youth and he has an affinity towards the population that is underprivileged. He is obviously extremely concerned about the health of our children and he believes in physical activity and that's what we believe in. The more kids that we get out to the Island, the more we can help fulfill his dreams as well as our dreams."
Sanchez, entering his fourth season with the Green & White, has been an active member of the community throughout his career. He has placed an emphasis on reducing the rates of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes and improving the lives of Hispanic youth.
"Family members of mine have had diabetes," Sanchez told newyorkjets.com. "This is where it starts. You develop these good habits as a youngster of not only staying in shape and running around but learning life lessons that you are going to take with you into the workplace, into your family about being a leader, about being a good sport and about competing.
"Those things are so important and not everybody is going to play professional sports. Thank God I can do it and that's awesome and I'm so fortunate, but there's more to it than just playing and Randall's Island recognizes that. They want to realize these youngsters' potential through sports and athletics."
On hand for the "Fielding Dreams Gala," Sanchez mingled with guests and assisted in a live auction, with all proceeds benefiting RISF. The foundation provides free programs to thousands of children annually and works closely with more than 120 public schools and community-based organizations in Harlem and the South Bronx — communities with some of the nation's highest rates of obesity, asthma and diabetes.
"We are thrilled that Mark is one of our honorees," said Nancy Neff, co-chair of the RISF board of trustees. "He brings an incredible energy, a youthfulness, a love of kids and a love of bringing kids into the sports world that we think embodies what we do at Randall's Island. Nobody could be a better example of what we are doing out at Randall's Island in terms of bringing sports to all of the city's kids — both as a phenomenal athlete, as a representative of the Jets and also one who's been passionate in working with kids in the diverse communities. He is the perfect example of what we do."
Randall's Island, which features more than 60 new state-of-the-art sports fields, also has salt- and freshwater marshes, an urban farm, a playground and picnic areas.
"We're sort of strategically looking at what do we want to make happen over the next five or 10 years," Goldman said. "What we're focused on is programming — bringing more people out to the Island. We're very focused on developing our relationships with the community that surrounds our island, finding more activities and events that are of interest to the people in New York."
Sanchez, just 25, has fond memories of his early sports experiences.
"I remember hitting my first three home runs in Majors baseball, I remember throwing my first touchdown in high school, I remember shooting hoops in the backyard with my dad and going to the park and shooting with my brother," he said. "To partner with Randall's Island and what they're doing, building these sports complexes for these youngsters — that really hits home."
Sanchez, who was honored along with The Corcoran Group president/CEO Pamela Liebman, was humbled for the opportunity to present medals to a group of children from the Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education for their participation in the RISF's free summer camp program.
"It means the world to be here tonight. It means the world to receive an award and be able to present awards to these youngsters," he said. "But when you get the chance to kind of sit down and hang, talk and break the ice a little bit with them and there's not 80,000 screaming fans, you just get to relax and see what they're all about and see I'm a real person. Give me a high-five, give me a hug. You just won a big award. Congratulations, keep working hard. That's stuff important because I was in their shoes, looking up to athletes at their age, so it's great."
Sanchez played a pivotal role on a critical fundraising night for the RISF.
"Our budget for 2012 is something in the neighborhood of $7 million and over half of the money that we need to keep those fields healthy, growing, lined and ready for play comes from fundraising," Goldman said. "Having somebody like Mark here tonight is probably going to raise close to $800,000 or $900,000, which is a big chunk of the amount of the fundraising we have to do in a given year. We're very, very hopeful that his presence is going to inspire the crowd to give more."
At the event, "The Sports Package" — an opportunity for two to spend a day on the set of a commercial with Sanchez, a Darrelle Revis signed football and two club tickets with on-field access to a Jets game — promised to land a sizable donation from one lucky supporter. "I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you I've been a Jets fan since 1961," Goldman said, "so having Mark be a part of something that is very important to me and having the Jets be a part of something that is very important to me is fulfilling and very exciting."