Packers offensive lineman Grey Ruegamer is entering a sixth year in the NFL, an experienced vet. He is equally experienced in giving to the community as he is protecting the quarterback.
Ruegamer first began his community work while in college at Arizona State. He made visits to schools to read to children and was involved in the D.A.R.E. program. Following playing in the 1997 Rose Bowl, he made a visit to a children's hospital with some of his teammates. He was struck by the courage he saw in the children he saw there.
"It was sad seeing the kids, but those kids are tough," Ruegamer said. "They're fighting everyday. We'd go in there and talk with them. It was good to see them smile after all that they've been through. It really makes you feel good."
He was drafted by Miami in 1999, and ended up with New England the following year. Ruegamer's charitable ways did not end with his college career. His wife, Laurie, arranged for him and many of his Patriots comrades to visit the Boston Children's Hospital during the holidays and also participate in a corresponding telethon to raise funds for the hospital.
Ruegamer also helped clothe needy children. He and his team worked with a local Boston company to take inner-city youth to stores and buy them winter clothes.
"We got them winter boots, hats, gloves and things they needed when it was cold," Ruegamer said. "That was a lot of fun. You could tell the kids really appreciated it."
When he came to Green Bay last season, he felt getting involved in the community, particularly with children, was important.
"I wanted to get involved with the school system," Ruegamer said. "I was a special education major and my mom is a professor. I thought it was a big deal to get kids interested in school. I didn't like school when I was growing up and I think a little motivation can go a long way for kids."
That motivation was implemented at Elmore Elementary school in Green Bay through a program called P.A.C.K.E.R.S, which rewards students for good behavior. P.A.C.K.E.R.S stands for Participation, Attitude, Cleanliness, Kindness to others, Effort, Respectful to others and super grades.
Based on those criteria, teachers made a list of kids and, before every Packers home game, four names were drawn. Ruegamer and his agent, Rich Moran, then bought a pair of tickets for each child to send them to a game with a chaperone of his/her choice (more often than not, a parent).
"Not a lot of young kids get to go to Packers games," Ruegamer said. "I thought it would be cool to reward them. Maybe they see school as boring or monotonous. If they do well, hopefully they'll learn there is some extra incentive involved."
In addition to the ticket award, Ruegamer bought pizza for the entire school to reward them for increased attendance.
This year, Ruegamer, with assistance from his wife and his mother, Lynne, created an additional reading element for the program at Elmore Elementary. He'll buy a book for each child and he and that student will sign it and put it in the library. Ruegamer hopes that by giving students a sense of ownership, they will be more excited to read.
In addition to his work with the school, Ruegamer has done other work with the Salvation Army and events benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, just to name a few. He is an outstanding community role model.
"Grey likes to be behind-the-scenes yet is willing to give 110 percent to our community," said Cathy Dworak, Packers director of community relations. "He has a deep appreciation for literacy and education which is why he volunteers every Tuesday at Elmore Elementary. The Green Bay Packers are fortunate to have Grey on our team."
As Dworak said, Ruegamer does not work with children to receive any pat on the back. He does it because he was once a bored student and wants school to be a positive experience for today's young students.
"The best part is seeing them smile and knowing that they have a chance," Ruegamer said. "They realize that if they work hard, they will always have a chance."