There’s usually no tackling for the Buffalo Bills in the spring. That NFL rule got broken more than a few times Monday, though.
In conjunction with the league’s Inspire Change Initiative, six members of the team visited Bornhava, an Amherst-based early childhood center for children with developmental disabilities. The kids there had huge smiles on their faces as they took turns taking down offensive tackle Conor McDermott, fullback Patrick DiMarco, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, wide receiver John Brown, center Mitch Morse and defensive end Mike Love.
The visit to Bornhava was one of several made by members of the organization Monday. In total, $170,000 was split roughly equally among six different local youth programs. That money came from the $212,000 that was raised by players, staff and ownership last year to fund social justice initiatives that were chosen by the player community leadership committee. The contributions Monday followed a $42,000 donation that was made to the Food Bank of Western New York last Thanksgiving.
“I think what we're doing on a larger scale with social justice, getting into all the different schools and different social justice categories that we're able to reach, it's huge for our organization and it's huge for the city of Buffalo,” said Phillips, who has taken a leadership role in the team’s community efforts.
Phillips has been a constant presence in almost any charitable outing put together since coming to the Bills in 2018 as a third-round draft pick.
“It takes a village to raise somebody. I was fortunate to have some really, really good people to raise me, and I want to be that mentor, or positive light, whatever I can be to these kids,” he said. “I'm only going to be in the NFL for so long. Hopefully, it's 25 years, but the league average says otherwise. I just want to make as big of an impact as I can, so when it's all said and done, I'm known more as the person than the player.”
To the staff and families serviced by Bornhava, Phillips has done that. Right inside the front door are several framed photos of Phillips participating with kids in different programs.
“When he first came to Buffalo, he did an interview and said he always answers his social accounts, so one of my community development liaisons got in touch with him and right from the very beginning he answered,” said Donna Ringholz, Bornhava’s executive director. “He came and toured and did a visit and he's been involved with us ever since.”
On Phillips’ recommendation, Bornhava applied for a grant in January that was to be used to fund a new music and movement program with 142 children across 10 classrooms once a week for 28 weeks, beginning in September and ending in June 2020. Sessions will be offered in the five classrooms at the main Amherst location, and in the five community-based integrated classrooms.
“Music is very important for our children,” Ringholz said. “We're going to have a whole music and movement program, and it will be run by a music therapist, to help the children really develop their overall skills. This is something we really need as an organization.”
Bornhava is a Danish word that means early childhood program in a homelike environment. The organization provides support to children from birth through 5 years old who have varying degrees of developmental disabilities. About 500 children or families a year receive support.
“They have a variety of needs,” Ringholz said. “We provide their special education services, speech, language, pathology services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, whatever services they might need to help them develop.”
Here, according to a Bills news release, is how the rest of the funds raised will benefit the other local organizations focused on educational advancement:
- The donation to the Belle Center will support a new youth mentoring program for students in grades 6-12. The program will bring in role models of successful men and women as mentors to ultimately help increase Hispanic and African American graduation rates in Buffalo.
- The donation to the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY will aid the program's goal to engage children in specific sport opportunities in five separate after-school programs, serving 85 children. Working with the Police Athletic League and the First Tee, children in grades 3-5 will try golf, bowling, tennis and other sports.
- With the funds to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo, club members will participate in a social-emotional wellness program that promotes positive behavior and healthy relationships. In participating in the program, children will gain skills in self-regulation, behavioral management and teamwork.
- The Buffalo-Area Engineering Awareness for Minorities program will use the funds in weekly activities during the school year, and in summer programming, to connect students with experts in a range of engineering fields.
- The University District Community Development Association located at the Gloria J. Parks Community Center’s overall goal with the funds is to substantially increase the reading skills of inner-city children in grades 1-8 in after-school programs who suffer with reading aptitude deficits of at least one full grade level, by using small group and individual tutoring based on a high quality, data-based curriculum.