The New York Jets returned to Goryeb Children's Hospital at Morristown Memorial this Election Day. Rookie tight end Dustin Keller and rookie running back Jehuu Caulcrick spent time talking with patients and signing autographs.
The players, moving floor to floor and room by room, met with numerous children, trying to brighten their days. One such encounter was unexpected by 15-year-old Zach Magenta.
"I sat down and they said, 'Do you want to meet some Jets?' and I was just star-struck," he said. "I didn't know what to say. I just took their hand and said hello. And I got autographs from them, so it was pretty nice."
"It was a good experience to go in there and meet with kids and just brighten their days a little," said Caulcrick. "We're lucky enough to be in the positions that we're in, so anything we can do to make other people happy, we're all for it."
"I think we actually had more fun than the kids did in there," said Keller. "Between going in the rooms, you kind of just see all the different personalities and you get to bring it out of them. Because, of course, whatever may be wrong with them kind of dampens their day and we just really want to bring them up. I think we may have been able to do that a little bit."
Maureen Boulanger, manager for public relations, said the hospital receives letters from children, after they've gone home, relating how much the player visits meant to them, "even if it's for a moment and they're inspired to get back out there and show their friends what they got in the hospital."
Although Goryeb Children's Hospital tries to provide some in-house entertainment with toys, boardgames, a foosball table and even a karaoke machine, visits such as those by the Jets offer unique interactions that serve to break the day-to-day monotony of a hospital stay, especially for longer-term patients.
"For us, it's a great feeling to be able to walk around with them and tell the kids that they're coming," Lisa Ciarrocca, child life manager, said of the players. "It's great because when you're a professional sports figure, I don't think sometimes you realize that this comes with the territory.
"These guys never say no to an autograph — it doesn't matter who it is. They stay here till they see the last kid — it doesn't matter what time it is. It's been really rewarding for all of us to be a part of that, to see that."
The day of the visit, Brittany Johnson, 18, who has undergone 35 surgeries in her young life, was scheduled to be released from the hospital following a lengthy stay. She was excited to vote and will begin her studies at Utica College.
"I'll be a freshman," she said. "I'm going to be a child-life specialist. They work in the hospital here, like Lisa. They interact with the children and try to make the hospital stay a little bit better."
Johnson was enthusiastic about her first time meeting a professional athlete.
"It's really cool to see them come around, just regular people like everyone else, come to say hi, and that they do so much."
Johnson asked Keller what it was like to be a football player.
"I told her, just a little bit different," he said. "It's hard to really say what it's really like to be a football player because ever since we can remember we've been football players. But now, of course, NFL players — I think it brings a lot more responsibility. Being able to be given opportunities like this, like going on hospital visits, you've got to take those opportunities every chance you can."
Although it's surely not the reason for their visits to Goryeb, the Jets might be expanding their fan base through their good deeds.
"I think our staff has really grown to back the Jets," said Ciarrocca, "because we see when the guys come in how much it makes the kids smile."