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It's not community work for John Hughes; it's changing lives


You know that feeling two minutes after you stop sobbing, when a sensation of tranquility rushes over your body?

You know that feeling 15 minutes after you wake up from a nap and the groggy feeling shakes off?

It's a feeling. It literally gives you a natural high.

That's why John Hughes does what he does. He gets a feeling from it.

And don't call it volunteering. Don't call it going out in the community. Those are bland descriptions that reduce the lives Hughes changes.

A family of four stands in a room at the Ronald McDonald House on Euclid Avenue 10 minutes from downtown Cleveland. It's where they live now.

Two 30-something parents. Dad served 14 years in the Army before switching battlefields, becoming a firefighter. Mom was sweeter than pecan pie. Their 4-year-old daughter is the cutest little clone of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, dancing and singing as the life of the party.

And there sat on the couch a 13-year-old boy named Eric. Since late December, the entire family has been housed in the Ronald McDonald House here in Cleveland even though they are residents of Northern Virginia. Eric's health has been down more than it's been up for his entire life. Less than two months after he was born, Eric suffered cardiac arrest and ever since he's had 13 abdominal surgeries, some of them failures. He walks gingerly and can get short of breath at a moment's notice. But he never complains. Not once. 

Hughes glides into the room like a friendly polar bear – all 6-foot-2, 320 pounds of him. Decked out in brown and orange, Eric quickly realizes he's a football player for the Browns and his jaw nearly hits the floor.

He doesn't know who Hughes is. But that's not the point. An NFL player is here just to hang out.

Eric doesn't want Hughes all to himself; he wants to show off his guest to friends he's made at the Ronald McDonald House. Hughes grabs the loudspeaker and announces he's a Browns player and people of all ages trickle down to the living room area. Eric suggests the group join in on a BINGO game and Hughes is the first to grab a card. Like blowing up a balloon, the 25-year-old's positive vibes and genuine friendliness are filling the room with joy.

You really can't grasp medical problems until someone close to you goes through them. I watched my dad go through extensive health problems. I left my job at a TV station to take care of him every day. The concept of time isn't real. Life is heavy. It's so easy to dwell on all of the negativity. When you're in that situation, you need something to grasp onto.

While Hughes played BINGO, I took a step back to soak it in. A trivial hour of his time could change everything. It's like momentum in football. Hughes is leaving an uplifting effect. Eric might have more strength the rest of the week for his medical testing as he basks in such an uplifting surprise, an hour in his life he'll never forget.

"I care about other people," Hughes said. "That's just kind of my thing."


(Inmates at the River City Correctional Center)

During Hughes' senior year at the University of Cincinnati, he wanted to put his degree in Criminology to good use. He interned as a guard at River City Correctional Center during the football season. Even though his coaches and advisors told him he was likely going to be an NFL draft pick, and should be focusing every ounce of his energy on getting ready for the NFL Combine, Hughes wanted a life away from football and experience in the real world.

River City wasn't the unruly jailhouse you see depicted in the movies. For four days a week, sometimes until 1 a.m., Hughes was in charge of patrolling 55 inmates, most whom treated him with respect.

Hughes has always been a good-natured person, but an experience at River City would change his outlook on life.

Hughes found himself gravitating toward one of his co-workers named Mr. Jones. A former inmate himself at River City for 25 years, Mr. Jones turned his life around, got his degree and eventually realized he could best serve this world as a counselor at his former jail.

As inmates were getting close to finishing out their sentences, Mr. Jones would try and steer them in the right direction. Hughes would sit and watch most of the inmates ignore Mr. Jones. It hurt. How could these people ignore advice from someone who had been in their exact situation?

But Mr. Jones imparted an approach on life to Hughes that the defensive lineman carries close to his heart in everything he does in life.

"It's not about the nine people you don't reach," Mr. Jones told Hughes. "It's about the one person you do reach."

A few days before Hughes met Eric, he was at a local elementary school eating breakfast with kids and reading the morning announcements over the loudspeaker. He was promoting Play 60.

Next week he could be at a hospital or helping build a playground. Next month, it could be an event he creates for Hughes Nation, the special needs foundation he set up in honor of his close friend Percy.

The platform, or specific charity endeavor, are just the background noise for Hughes. It's the people that matter. It's about that feeling that overcomes his body when he leaves an event, knowing how many smiles were just because he showed up and chit-chatted with people.

"I want to leave my mark in more than just football," Hughes said.

There isn't a scale to measure what Hughes has meant to so many people struggling in their own regard. Some of them won't remember his visits, or his BINGO-calling skills.

But one person will. One person will be having a bad day, will reflect back, and will smile. And that bad day will turn into an OK day.

We need more John Hughes' in this world. #Give10


*"The Browns First and Ten program is about inspiring Browns fans to make their community better by giving back 10 hours of community service. Share your story of how you are making a difference on or use #give10. Follow @BrownsGiveBack on Twitter and Instagram for community updates." *

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