United Way of Southeast Louisiana and the New Orleans Saints symbolically kicked-off United Way's annual community impact campaign last Friday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome prior to the Saints' 17-13 preseason win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
For 40 years, the NFL has been working United Way to teach youth about the importance of health and fitness and give kids opportunities to lead healthier lifestyles. The NFL-United Way partnership connects NFL PLAY 60 with United Way's goal to get 1.9 million more youth healthy and active by 2018.
To support the mission, the Saints partner with United Way each summer to offer Community Patrol Camps, one-day free camps for children between the ages of nine and 13. More than 600 local kids participate in the program each year and have the opportunity to learn football drills and meet Saints players. As a part of the program, the kids also participate in a session hosted by the Children's Bureau of New Orleans that teaches them skills that will help improve their behavior and attitude and lead to healthier lifestyle choices.
"The Community Patrol Camp is so unique because it blends the excitement of young children learning about football and meeting Saints players and coaches and staff with life skills," said Michael Williamson, President & Chief Executive Officer of United Way of Southeast Louisiana. "For kids that may never see a Saints game or ever meet a Saints player to be able to come out and meet the guys, meet the staff, and also learn about conflict resolution and certain life skills that teach them how to deal with tough situations is really tremendous. We've been doing it for years and thousands of kids have benefitted−it's just an amazing partnership."
Joseph Exnicios, President of Whitney Bank and this year's United Way Campaign Chair, attempted a field goal prior to the game to kick off the annual campaign. In addition to the kickoff, over 100 United Way volunteers wearing "Live United" t-shirts carried the flag onto the field for the National Anthem.
"These are all people who work for companies that have active and ongoing United Way campaigns," said Joseph Exnicios. "They represent about 60 companies. We've asked each of the top companies to send us a volunteer to be a part of holding the flag."
Many Saints players and staff members make contributions to United Way throughout the year and several players support the organization through their personal community initiatives. Roman Harper, Jahri Evans, Malcolm Jenkins, Lance Moore, Courtney Roby, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas, along with former Saint Darren Sharper, host an annual Hope for the Holidays Gala with United Way to raise money to rebuild homes in New Orleans damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Isaac.