Not only did the 100 Pals Program kids leave Monday's event with both smiles and perspiration glistening on their faces, but the visiting Green Bay Packers players did as well. Graham Harrell, Brad Jones, Anthony Levine, Nick McDonald and Maurice Simpkins all exited the building just as exhausted and fulfilled as their fans.
For second-year linebacker, Brad Jones, participating in the Pals Program is something he looks forward to each year.
"This is my second year with the Pals Program," Jones said. "It's definitely something I enjoy coming to each year. The Pals Program is really one of the most essential events for me, I mean, you're playing with kids. Just like the NFL Play 60, all you do is have fun and play with the kids, so I really enjoy it here. The Pals Program was always a big thing to me when I was growing up so honestly, this is just something fun for me to do with the kids."
And to the 100 kids attending the annual event, ensuring a fun night for the special-guest Packers players was the last thing they expected to accomplish. However, when life's obligations are set aside, the kids will play, no matter what the age.
Both the Pals Program kids and the visiting players were able to put aside their worries and just be a kid. The Pals Program matches children from low-income, single-parent families with an adult mentor to spend a few hours weekly in a recreational or learning activity. Many of the program's participants come from homes that have experienced abuse, neglect or domestic violence, or have a deceased parent or a parent with a disability.
To escape such worries is a treat for these kids and Monday night proved to be the perfect distraction.
"Overall, our goal is to make sure everyone has fun," Pals Program volunteer coordinator Glen Tilot said. "We have a lot of children from a lot of different circumstances that are not so pleasant. This is their opportunity to go out, forget all about their troubles and just have fun. They get the chance to get up close and personal with a player they usually would not get the chance to have. And moreover, they are able to get physical, exercise and have fun."
The annual event proved to be another meaningful experience for the participants, players and Tilot.
"It was a great success tonight," he said. "All the kids had fun and definitely got a lot of exercise. The facility was fantastic and we were able to use the Packers training camp equipment, which the kids thoroughly enjoyed. Even the players seemed to have a lot of fun tonight. I think it brought them back to their youth."
Monday's event may not have been possible without the hardwork and dedication from various individuals.
"We wouldn't be able to have such an event like this without the community spirit of the Packers and all the faces in the team's offices. From the player appearances to the equipment to the donated merchandise, we had everything possible to make the night a success. It was a win-win night for everyone."
One parent, Jody Kraft, saw just how special the entire night was to not only her child but the entire group.
"We've been a part of the Pals Program for almost five years now," Kraft said. "But tonight was great. It was so much better for the kids – having the event here. It was just like being on a football field. My son was so excited to come here tonight that he wore the same jersey he wore last year, even with all the autographs he got then."
Other activities in which the Pals participated included a basketball shoot-around with members of the UWGB women's basketball team and a dance lesson with an area dance team. Even some of the Packers demonstrated their acrobatic skills. Onlookers were especially impressed with rookie safety Anthony Levine's cartwheels and rookie linebacker Maurice Simpkins' attempt to do the splits.
The Green Bay Packers take pride in promoting a healthy and active lifestyle in conjunction with the NFL's Play 60 program and believe it doesn't matter how you move, just as long as you are active. And by the end of the night, everyone had gotten their fair share of activity along with plenty of laughs and memories to hold on to.
Providing activities such as this for children are important to the Packers organization and prove why Green Bay is such a special and unique city for the NFL.
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