John Johnson III saw the smiles and joy from the 30 kids packed inside the media center at John F. Kennedy Elementary School and smiled back.
Johnson, the Browns' five-year safety veteran, was excited to share a quick message Tuesday about the importance of commitment to school before partaking in a few fun activities with the kids, all of whom were third-graders being rewarded for showing improved school attendance during the fall months. The kids cheered and clapped as Johnson was introduced, and the energy was matched by Johnson himself throughout the visit.
The experience was made possible through Maple Heights City School District's partnership with the Stay in the Game!, Keep Learning, Every Day Network, which is focused on enhancing school attendance and student engagement across Ohio. One of the highlights of the event and Day of 1 of the Browns' "10 Days of Giving" holiday initiative was the presentation of a $100,000 grant by the Arby's Foundation, which will help further provide important educational resources to several of the Network's 16 partner districts in the state.
"I heard you all wanted to come party with me and have a good time," Johnson told the kids, who roared in approval. "Growing up, school was important to me because all my friends were at school, so school was the place to be. There might not have been football, but I knew I was going to be successful because I had a drive and a work ethic that couldn't be stopped."
Johnson motivated each of the kids to keep that work ethic while also having plenty of fun during his visit. He helped them create holiday greeting cards and snowflakes for their classrooms and played a few rounds of bingo, in addition to giving them a few Browns-themed goodies. He also answered any questions the kids had and ensured each of them enjoyed the reward for coming to school every day.
"I just wanted to relay the message that it starts here," Johnson said. "It starts with that mindset that I'm going to come to school to get better. Something so small can have a big impact. All their eyes were glued on me, and they were listening and being attentive. I just tried to give them a good, strong message that will last for them."
Johnson's efforts, as well as the donation from Arby's, will go a long way toward driving more students to come to school every day and helping the Network reach its goal of reducing Ohio's chronic absenteeism rate by half over the next 10 years. The donation to the Stay in the Game! Network, in particular, will benefit multiple partner school districts as they collaborate to provide critical resources to help combat chronic absenteeism and promote strong school engagement with the goal of preparing all students for future success. It marks the third consecutive year that the Arby's Foundation has made a $100,000 commitment to the Stay in the Game! Network.
"There are so many children out there who just don't have the opportunities everyone else has," said Donna Manwaring, Arby's Cleveland Director of Operations. "We're excited to be able to provide those opportunities. (The donation) will help them with getting the kids to school, which is so important, and provide the supplies they need."
Maple Heights City School District Superintendent Dr. Charlie Keenan is eager to see how the donation will impact his district and the surrounding school areas. He knows for a fact, too, that Johnson's appearance will be a lifelong memory for the students as they look back on why school attendance is paramount for career success.
"Telling the kids to be here is part of it, but the other part is the barriers they face, and some of those things take resources," he said. "Without those resources, we can't help support those families. It's huge, and the importance of having great role models come to talk to them helps, but if we don't put the support and resources in place, you won't see long, meaningful change, so it's all enormous."
Johnson's appearance was one of many activities the Browns are completing throughout its annual "10 Days of Giving" initiative as they strive to lift spirits of those in need throughout Northeast Ohio during the holiday season. The community engagement program, initially inspired by the Browns' signature #give10 First and Ten volunteer movement, fully encompasses the team's dedication to education and combating chronic absenteeism in Ohio through the
Stay in the Game! Network as it focuses on enhancing youth and high school football throughout the state and its commitment to addressing social justice issues.