The Emigrants Bank building's decorated round tables were quickly filled with students and their proud families Tuesday evening as celebrations commenced for the 100 winners of the "Be a Champion" writing contest.
Earlier this fall, the Jets, represented by fullback Tony Richardson, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and Lime Connect, an organization that connects people with disabilities for employment, partnered up to challenge 350 special education students to submit essays about what it means to be a champion and their expectations for life after high school.
Richardson received thunderous applause as he was introduced and approached the podium.
"We really challenged everyone in here and you guys met the challenge," he told the students. "You set a goal for yourself and you accomplished that goal."
Another major contributor to the event, as well as the founder of Lime Connect, Rich Donovan has accomplished much in his life in spite of his cerebral palsy.
"The idea here is to motivate a whole generation of kids who typically would not be thinking about careers," said Donovan. "Typically, kids with disabilities are taught to survive. The idea with this is to raise the bar."
Richardson, who was recently voted the Jets' "Walter Payton Man of the Year" for his charity and community involvement, used the Jets' recent loss to the Broncos to parallel the day-to-day challenges that these students are all too familiar with.
"So now, we have to make one of two decisions," he said. "We could say we took a step backwards last week, and we're going to put our head in the dirt and now the season is over. Or are we going to say now we have a new opportunity? We could set a new goal and that new goal is to beat the San Francisco 49ers this weekend, so you guys are all about us meeting that goal, right?"
After congratulating the students on winning the contest, Richardson turned their attention to the fact that writing down their goals was only the first step for these individuals.
"It doesn't stop here tonight," he said. "This is only a beginning because you guys said you're going set your goals and you're going to write them down, and that's the reason why you're here in this room. But now, this is when the action plan really starts to come into play. I had a chance to read several of the essays as well and I've got to say you guys did a phenomenal job of really putting your goals and you dreams down on paper, but now it's time to put an action plan together and say, 'Okay, I have it down. These are my goals. These are things I want to get accomplished. Now, how am I going to go about doing those things?'"
The idea to write down one's goals was reinforced to Richardson by his father, but Richardson has a strong religious faith and draws inspiration from that as well.
"The Bible says, 'Write it down and make it plain,'" said Richardson. "If you write it down you have a tendency to follow through with it."
Richardson proceeded to spend over an hour signing autographs and taking pictures with each of the students and left them with some motivational words to keep their ambitions high.
"Like we challenged you guys a few months ago," said Richardson, "we're going to challenge you again to take those things that you guys have written down and now transfer them into an action plan."