By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Donnie Jones and the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles had just spent 10 days on the West Coast after playing back-to-back games against the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams.
The team’s charter flight landed in Philadelphia, Monday morning around 4 o’clock, and later that day Jones, the team’s veteran punter, and kicker Caleb Sturgis, were at New Eagle Elementary School doing their part for Ryan’s Case for Smiles– an organization that brings comfort and support to young patients and their families.
Jones and Sturgis spent the afternoon with third graders at the school, building coping boxes that will be sent to siblings of children who are in the hospital battling cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
According to studies by Ryan’s Case, 30 percent of mothers who are caring for a sick child suffer full symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder. And when you add in that it’s the holiday season, the anxiety that families endure goes up even more.
“I enjoy helping out,’’ Jones, in his 13th NFL season and fifth with the Eagles, said. “I try to do a handful of things a year. It’s just so hard seeing a young, innocent child going through cancer, and seeing the parents and what they’re going through. And especially around Christmas, that’s supposed to be a happy time and spending it with family. So, any way we can give back, or help, I think it’s important.’’
Jones and Sturgis worked with the third graders to make the coping boxes that were designed for specific age groups and genders.
“It would be an age group, say 7-10, and then a boy or a girl,’’ Jones said. “We made the box. The kids colored it. We put some Eagles logos on it and then filled it with what we felt that age group would like. We wrote a note on each box, then put it in a pillow case and sent it on the way.’’
Included in the boxes were an assortment of coloring books, construction paper, crayons, bubbles, card games and journal books.
“I had two great helpers in Armon and Aiden,’’ Jones said of two of the third graders. “It’s a great thing to make the boxes to help the kids who have brothers or sisters going through this. If it can take their mind off what their brothers or sisters are going through that helps.’’
Jones also liked the educational value it brings to the children who created the boxes and what it meant to them.
“I think it’s great the kids are involved, I have two kids of my own, a 10-year-old boy (Weston) and an 8-year old girl (Addison), it’s important to teach kids to help others and give back, especially ones who are going through tough times,’’ Jones said. “Being a father, when I go into the hospital and see sick kids it’s just so tough. I’m fortunate, both of my kids are healthy. But to go to and talk to the parents and see what they’re going through, anything we can do to help out and brighten their day that’s what it’s all about.’’
It also helps when a NFL player is the one helping.
“As soon as I walked in they knew who I was and they were excited,’’ Jones said. “They see us on TV and see us playing games, but it’s important for us to get out in the community and give our time and give back. It sends a great message to the kids and it’s good for us to be an example for the youth.’’
Ryan’s Case for Smiles is dedicated to helping kids feel better to heal better, and works to improve the quality of life of children and their families as they undergo treatment. It started in 2007 with whimsical pillowcases that gave children an emotional boost during treatment and has now turned into a program that embraces a child’s entire family so they can better navigate and cope with a very difficult experience and avoid long term emotional trauma.
“It’s such a great thing,’’ Jones said “I didn’t mind helping out.’’
Even after 10 days on the road, and a flight that didn’t land until 4:00 a.m.