Gary Barnidge wanted to make sure his teammates were there. So the veteran Browns tight end assembled his younger counterparts — Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve and Connor Hamlett — for a trip to the Brook Park Recreation Center.
"They're a young group. I wanted to get them out here in the community like I've been doing and just show them that, hey, there's a real benefit to doing this," said Barnidge, who orchestrated a back-to-school event in which he donated over 100 backpacks stuffed full of school supplies Friday afternoon.
"We wanted to have a back-to-school program where we give kids backpacks full of school supplies and just show them how important school is. We wouldn't be where we are without school because you can't do it without school, it's a very important aspect of life and that's something that we wanted to start this year."
That's something Barnidge and his teammates stressed during their visit. They also posed for photos and signed autographs in what was high-energy event.
"There's a lot of kids that are going to look up to us and I just wanted to give a positive message and maybe they'll enjoy this type of stuff because maybe they'll start doing their own stuff and start doing their own things and want to do more in the community," he said.
There was also plenty of planning that went into ensuring it was a successful one.
"We order all the backpacks and then we get all the school supplies and then I have to pack every bag myself. So I pack it all up and then I have to repack it, bring it all here and send it all out for everybody to see," Barnidge said.
"So we're going to hopefully give them all backpacks and they can enjoy them and use them for school."
Barnidge coordinated the event through his non-profit organization, American Football Without Barriers (AFWB), which provides at-risk, underprivileged and disadvantaged youth with opportunities that promote physical fitness activities, overall wellness and educational advancement.
Gary Barnidge, Seth DeValve, Connor Hamlett, and Randall Telfer visit with kids at Brook Park Recreation Center. #give10
AFWB also provides sports performance training camps in the U.S. and internationally in addition to fitness workshops, mentorship, scholarship programs, and education programs. Barnidge and AFWB have hosted educational football camps for males and females in countries without football, including recent trips to Egypt (2016), Turkey (2015), Brazil (2014) and China (2013).
"With AFWB, we go overseas and do a free football camp and we also partner with hospitals and schools and orphanages where we give back to kids and community," Barnidge said.
"We give them clothes, give them shoes, we spend time with them, just to show that there are other people out there that want them to achieve outside of where they live, just all over the world. And that's something that we want to do here."
The Brook Park Recreation Center offers after-school programs throughout the year for kids to have "special activities to keep them off the streets and active and participating in a positive well-organized program," said director Maryann Fields.
"It means so much, these kids, this will make their entire day, year, world," she said of the Browns' visit. "They aspire to be professional athletes and for him to come here and speak to them and tell them the importance of school, it's tremendous. It'll last a lifetime."
In 2016, the Browns are continuing their commitment to #give10 through the team's First and Ten initiative. Launched in June 2014, the Cleveland Browns First and Ten campaign is the team's community program, established to inspire fans to volunteer in and help their communities throughout the world by volunteering for 10 hours each year. Through First and Ten, the Browns are the only NFL club to promote a long-term volunteering program that unifies the team and its entire fan base, with the goal of impacting every individual's city across the globe, as well as the franchise's local community. All Browns fans are encouraged to join the volunteering effort by signing the First and Ten pledge on the team's website and by sharing their stories with #give10.