By BARRY GOODRICH
Cleveland’s reputation as a football town is beyond question. Even during the darkest seasons (try 0-16 in 2017), Browns fans have remained loyal to one of the most storied franchises in NFL history.
So it comes as no surprise that the Browns organization is constantly working to remain engaged with the community. Under owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, the Browns Give Back Initiative has made major strides in its commitment to education, youth football and volunteerism.
“Dee and Jimmy not only want to build a winning football team, they want to give back to the fans and the community,” said Jenner Tekancic, the Browns vice-president of community relations. “They’re very hands-on with these programs. It’s part of the culture of our team.”
In 2016, the Haslams and the Browns announced a commitment to provide five Cleveland Metropolitan School District high schools with synthetic turf fields. The team has now provided nine fields with the additions of Boys Hope Girls Hope of Northeast Ohio and Akron Ellet High School this year. All of the fields are lined to accommodate multiple sports and are maintained by the Browns’ grounds crew. The locations are open to all community members.
The Browns also offer year-round programming for youth football players, coaches, officials and parents by offering camps and clinics which promote healthy, social, emotional, intellectual and physical development by promoting a school-oriented culture and reducing common barriers to attendance.
The team’s HELMETS program, in association with University Hospitals and Xenith, helps advance player safety by awarding an eligible high school football program with $25,000 in new Xenith helmets.
In partnership with Shoes and Clothes for Kids, the Browns’ Special Teams Packages help support school attendance for children in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Students dealing with economic hardships are supplied with new clothing items as part of the Get 2 School attendance campaign. Students are supplied with three school uniforms, one casual outfit, and a gift card for shoes and school supplies.
The Browns are the only NFL team to promote a long-term volunteer program uniting the team with its fan base. First and Ten, launched in 2014, inspires fans to aid their community by volunteering 10 hours each year. To date, more than two million volunteer hours have been pledged and all Browns fans are encouraged to participate by signing the First and Ten pledge at www.clevelandbrowns.com/community/first-ten.
Since 2011, the Browns’ Adaptive Football League has provided school-age children and young adults with physical and/or cognitive disabilities with an opportunity to participate in an organized, competitive and developmental sport. Last year, over 120 athletes and more than 100 volunteers participated in the program.
The Junior Browns NFL FLAG is the team’s official youth flag football program for boys and girls ages five to 14 and has grown from eight to more than 70 programs throughout the region. And the team’s USA Football Rookie Tackle is a youth football developmental bridge between flag and tackle football.
A Browns Give Back First and Ten Blood Drive will be held Saturday, July 27 to benefit the Red Cross. The drive will be held at multiple locations throughout Northeast Ohio as well as at the team’s training facility in Berea.
A First and Ten Food Drive is held each holiday season to benefit the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, with last year’s drive helping to supply 30,000 meals from fan donations. Another fan donation-driven project during the holidays is the Browns First and Ten Toy Drive, held in conjunction with the U.S. Marines and Toys for Tots.
With its Hats Off to our Heroes program, the Browns pay tribute to men and women who have served the country and everyday heroes at each home game during the season.
One of the team’s most popular events is set for Monday, Sept. 9 when the Taste of the Browns is held at FirstEnergy Stadium. Jarvis Landry is the Honorary Chair for the event and Rocco Whalen is the Honorary Chef. Proceeds will benefit the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. To purchase tickets, visit www.greaterclevelandfoodbank.org.