A symbol of hope stands in a nondescript lot wedged between rows of residences in Garfield Heights.
It's a brand new, 22,000 square foot multipurpose building, the Rajan Academy Center, featuring dynamic classrooms, an art studio, a STEM lab, counseling and study areas and physical fitness spaces. It opens in June and belongs to Boys Hope Girls Hope, meaning it belongs to the students involved in the program.
The Cleveland Browns visited this site and gathered in a parking lot next to the center Tuesday for their own contribution: a 70-yard synthetic turf playing field. The team joined Boys Hope Girls Hope in breaking ground on the project Tuesday.
It's the latest phase of what has been an ambitious and successful construction project for Boys Hope Girls Hope, an organization that began in a house in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, some 30 years ago. Hope was central to the message of executive director Tim Grady on Tuesday. Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi took it a step further, imploring the students in attendance to believe, as belief inspires action.
"I've heard the word 'hope' a lot, and that's an awesome word, but I want you guys to believe," Ogunjobi told the students. "I want each and every one of you to believe that there's greatness in each and every one of you. You can go out here and do whatever you want to do, but you really have to take full advantage of the opportunities in front of you. Whatever you want to be, you can be it."
Ogunjobi was one of four Browns players in attendance, leading a group that also included safeties Damarious Randall and Jermaine Whitehead, and kicker Greg Joseph. Browns executive vice president JW Johnson attended as well, speaking to those gathered about the importance of education. He had a good example of it in Randall, who just graduated from Arizona State University over the weekend with a bachelor's degree.
The Cleveland Browns hosted an official groundbreaking for a 70-yard field at Boys Hope Girls Hope of Northeastern Ohio. The team will install high-quality synthetic turf at the center, which becomes the eighth of nine multi-sport playing fields to be funded since summer 2016 through the Browns' and Dee and Jimmy Haslams' commitment to youth football as part of Browns Give Back. The Browns will announce the ninth site selected later this month.
"Seeing the success that this program has had and then they can see some of our guys and realizing how important it is to get an education, no matter what you do, speaks volumes," Johnson said.
The field will cover most of what is currently an empty grass lot situated next to the lot in which the gathering occurred Tuesday. It will allow the students in the program, which refers to them as scholars, to have an outdoor space to be active. The field will also be the finishing touch to the new central location of Boys Hope Girls Hope.
"When you have a surface or an opportunity to go out there and play, you can start learning yourself more, you can make more friends and you can just grow," Randall said. "I feel like the park I went to every day that was across the street from my house, it just helped me become the person I am today and really kept me out of a lot of trouble and hopefully it does the same for these kids."
Grady, a longtime Browns fan, was ecstatic about the team's contribution to Boys Hope Girls Hope, which operates within the mission of helping academically capable and motivated children in need to meet their full potential and become men and women for others by providing value-centered, family-like homes, opportunities and education through college. The image of the Browns breaking ground on a field for BHGH was surreal for Grady.
Berea Midpark High School was surprised with $25,000 worth of new helmets from Xenith through the Browns HELMETS program in collaboration with Xenith, University Hospitals and Ohio Lottery. The event also was a pay it forward with the announcement of Barberton High School as the next school to receive $25K worth of new helmets.
"Boys Hope Girls Hope started off 30 years ago. It was only six kids. So when you watch something grow and build, now we're up to 180 kids, but we're still small," Grady said. "A lot of times we feel like we're the underdog, we feel like the organization that's fighting for kids who don't necessarily have anyone else to fight for them. So when the cherished, the revered Browns, the team so many of us grew up with and admired and look to in this region, called and said they wanted to partner with the little engine that could, Boys Hope Girls Hope, we were just over the moon. ... all these young people coming to this place, and now, a field where they can play sports, football, lacrosse, soccer, you name it? It's unbelievable.
"It allows us to think differently about who we are as an organization, it allows us to look around the Garfield Heights community, the greater Northeast Ohio community as a whole and partner with more people. So, the question, what does it mean to Boys Hope Girls Hope? It means everything."
The Browns will install high-quality synthetic turf at the center of the aforementioned grass lot, which becomes the eighth of nine multi-sport playing fields to be funded since summer 2016 through the Browns' and Dee and Jimmy Haslams' commitment to youth football as part of Browns Give Back. The Browns will announce the ninth site selected later this month.
Boys Hope Girls Hope of Northeastern Ohio's new multi-use field is expected to be completed prior to the start of the 2019 school year and will serve as a resource to further engage students in their holistic development from middle school through college. The field will complement the program's expanded campus in Garfield Heights, allowing nearly 200 BHGH scholars regular access to sports and physical activity. The field will also be available to other youth and groups in the local community.