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Josh Allen, New Era design hat to benefit Oishei Children's Hospital

Josh Allen called a late audible.

The Buffalo Bills’ quarterback was part of a design team that met Monday inside a conference room on the seventh floor of Oishei Children’s Hospital. The group’s task was to develop a New Era Cap that will be sold this fall as a fundraiser for the hospital.

When a suggestion for a color change was made and appeared on the projection screen, someone blurted out “it looks like the Dolphins’ colors.”

That suggestion, as you might imagine, quickly was vetoed by Allen and his team, which included Julie and Ray Wolniewicz of West Valley. They are parents of twin girls Natalie and Lauren, who were born 17 months ago at just 24 weeks, and spent weeks in the Children's Guild Foundation Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“To be back here for a happy thing, it’s a big deal for us,” Julie said after the family posed for pictures with Allen.

Although he’s been a member of the Bills for just a year, Allen has made community service one of his top priorities.

“It's a different opportunity and different experience every time you can get out and meet new people,” he said. “Just to hear stories like that, the hardships that the families have gone through, it makes it all worthwhile knowing that my presence here can affect someone's mood and bring them up. They do the same for me. This is one of the cooler things that I've ever been able to be a part of. We get to design a hat, and all the money goes to the hospital. Knowing that it goes to such a great cause makes me so happy.”

Bills fans hope Allen can be the long-awaited heir apparent to Jim Kelly. That extends beyond the field, too.

“He lives here and he's got his foundation and he's partnered with a bunch of other different organizations and groups around here, and that's what I want to do,” Allen said. “I want to be able to help the community. I want to be a part of the community. I want to be able to draw inspiration from stories like this, and put forth my effort and my time for something that is for the greater good.”

Final approval for the design of the hat, which is expected to be unveiled in the fall, went to 11-year-old Marilla resident Beau Barnard. During his first ultrasound, Beau was diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia, which allowed his intestines, kidneys and liver to enter the upper chamber of his chest, thus cramping the development of his heart and lungs. His parents were told he had just a 15 percent chance of survival.

Barnard was born at 5 pounds, 9 ounces and spent four months in the neonatal intensive care unit. He recently was cleared to play sports, and one day wants to be a singer/songwriter.

“Knowing some of the things these kids, at such a young age, have to go through, I couldn't have imagined that,” Allen said. “It takes my breath away, but to come in and see these kids smile as they go through their day-to-day lives and push through and persevere, I draw inspiration from it. I get into the workplace, and there's no bad days. Whatever happens, I understand there are things that are way worse that are going on out in the world.”

When the final design was finished, Allen asked Beau if he wanted to make any changes.

“No,” he replied. “I like it just the way it is.”

“The finished product is awesome,” Allen said. “It's going to be a different hat. I've never seen anything like it. ... Hopefully people will appreciate it as much as I'm going to appreciate it.”

Staff at the hospital Monday certainly appreciated Allen’s gesture.

“It's a really great opportunity to have this relationship with the Bills, with Josh,” said Angelica Martino, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit. “It brings more awareness to the hospital and what we do here. That will benefit our patients and our families.”

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