NEWS - MAY 2015
Chicago Bear, Kyle Long, UnitedHealthcare to Renovate Playground at St. Malachy School and Support "Blessings in a Backpack" Program
Business Wire May 6, 2015
CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Chicago Bears Pro Bowl offensive lineman Kyle Long and UnitedHealthcare are partnering to support students from low-income families at St. Malachy School, located on Chicago’s near west side.
UnitedHealthcare donated $22,000 to the Dreambuilders Foundation to help renovate Starr Park, which serves as St. Malachy School’s playground. The donation is also supporting the school’s Blessings in a Backpack program, which provides bags of nutritious food to 125 students every Friday afternoon over the next three school years, ensuring that these children have healthy food during the weekends.
The improvements to the 1.25-acre park will include new playground equipment, walking paths, site lighting, landscape improvements and a water-spray feature.
“Keeping kids healthy in Chicago is of vital importance, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner in this effort than UnitedHealthcare,” said Long. “The renovation at Starr Park will give the students at St. Malachy a fun, new place to play and stay active, and the food we give the kids each Friday through Blessings in a Backpack will make sure they get the nutrition they need when they are not in school.”
“UnitedHealthcare is grateful for the opportunity to partner with Kyle Long and Dreambuilders to increase awareness about childhood health, and promote healthy lifestyles and good eating habits in underserved Chicago neighborhoods,” said Colleen Van Ham, president and CEO, UnitedHealthcare of Illinois.
Renovation for the new park will begin this summer, while funding for the Blessings in a Backpack program began in January. Combined with support from parishioners of Holy Name Cathedral, all 255 students at St. Malachy School are now being given healthy and nutritious food on weekends through the Blessings program.
"We are truly grateful for our partnership with Dreambuilders and the generous support of Chicago Bears' Kyle Long and UnitedHealthcare, helping us feed hungry students over the weekend through our program,” said Brooke Wisemen, CEO, Blessings in a Backpack. “Every child deserves the nourishment needed to learn and grow – because of their generosity, St. Malachy students will come back to school on Mondays better nourished and more ready to learn.”
This project is the latest in UnitedHealthcare’s “Do Good. Live Well.” employee volunteer initiative, whose mission is to prevent hunger and obesity, inspire service and encourage volunteerism. For more information about the benefits of volunteering and to find local opportunities to get involved, visit www.DoGoodLiveWell.org. Follow @DoGoodLiveWell on Twitter or “like” Do Good. Live Well. on Facebook.
About Blessings in a Backpack
Hunger has both short- and long-term negative effects on children’s health and ability to succeed in school. Blessings in a Backpack mobilizes communities, individuals and resources to provide food on the weekends for elementary school children across America who might otherwise go hungry. Blessings in a Backpack currently feeds more than 76,000 children in 44 states and the District of Columbia. For more information visit www.blessingsinabackpack.org.
The Dreambuilders Foundation is a non-profit organization that works with pro athletes across the country to help financially, physically and mentally-challenged kids receive the items, opportunities and equipment they need to reach their dreams.
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers, military service members, retirees and their families, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 850,000 physicians and care professionals, and 6,000 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. UnitedHealthcare is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company. For more information, visit UnitedHealthcare at or follow @myUHC on Twitter.
Pro Football Shrine Taps Into Its Inner Disney
Wall Street Journal May 19, 2015
The Pro Football Hall of Fame plans to dip into Walt Disney’s playbook to build a sports version of the famed entrepreneur’s theme parks.
But whether football fans will flock to the large athletic-and-entertainment complex in Canton, Ohio, in the same numbers that Mickey Mouse fans travel to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., isn’t a sure bet.
The $476 million development would be an expansion of the Hall of Fame’s museum-and-stadium complex in Canton, roughly 60 miles south of Cleveland. The plans, outlined Tuesday, call for the construction of a four-star hotel, a 35,000-square-foot conference center, NFL Experience exhibition hall, playing fields, shops, training space, and 150 condominiums or apartments for retired National Football League players. It aims for the first phase to be completed by 2019.
“In some respects, our goal is to steal a page from Disney, which not only gives you a place to visit but an experience,” said David Baker,the Hall of Fame’s president.
Visitors to Disney theme parks can stay at hotels, eat at restaurants and shop on-site, something the Hall of Fame wants to do with its proposed complex. It aims to outfit its Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, which it shares with nearby schools, as a year-round venue to host concerts and other big events. At the proposed NFL Experience exhibition hall, modeled after venues set up at recent Super Bowls, visitors can take part in interactive exhibits that, for example, might measure how far and how accurately they kick or throw a football.
The Hall of Fame and its partners are assembling financing for the project. The hall itself has put up $32 million to be used for the project. The project’s master developer, Los Angeles-based Industrial Realty Group LLC, anticipates that it and other partners will contribute equity of $50 million to $100 million and raise other money through debt. Roughly $80 million to $100 million more could be generated over time by pending state legislation to create a tourism-development district at the Hall of Fame site, which would use certain tax revenue for financing public infrastructure at the site.
The NFL reigns as the most popular sports league in the U.S., but it has incurred several controversies in recent years, including damaging publicity over the league’s handling of head injuries and whether it ignored evidence of the harmful effects of concussions. The league reached a settlement over concussions in a class-action lawsuit brought by retired NFL players, and a federal judge approved the pact last month. The pact could cost the NFL more than $1 billion over 65 years.
The inclusion of housing for NFL veterans underlines that issue. Mr. Baker said most details remain to be determined on the residential component, to be called Legends Landing. Whether Legends Landing will be for-sale condominiums or rental apartments will depend partly on which development partner builds that portion of the campus. It is envisioned to include assisted-living units for elderly and disabled players. The units won’t be restricted to NFL retirees, “but they will have the priority,” Mr. Baker said.
To be sure, there are questions about whether the economic benefits of the project are overly optimistic.
In a news conference Tuesday, Hall of Fame officials presented an economic-impact study that estimates that the completed project might generate nearly $493 million in extra direct spending annually in Canton’s Stark County. The study predicts the Hall of Fame’s attendance, which tallied nearly 220,000 last year at its museum and 700,000 for its enshrinement-weekend activities, will balloon to three million a year by 2024 with the added attractions.
However, similar big, sports-related developments in the past have failed to live up to expectations. Former Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks’s plan to build a 75-acre mixed-use project called Glorypark Town Center near Rangers Ballpark and AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, in Arlington, Texas, never got off the ground.
Of course, some stadium plans have helped to revive portions of their cities, as did the 2002 opening of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., and the 2004 opening of Petco Park in San Diego. But critics of public funding for sports venue said those are among the exceptions.
Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio who specializes in tourism and convention centers, is a frequent critic of these types of expansion projects. He said he doubts the estimates for a large increase in attendance at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“The dilemma is, for a facility that’s been averaging around 200,000 attendees for 40 years, assuming any significant increase is open to serious question,” he said. “But assuming an increase of this magnitude just doesn’t seem plausible.”
Bill Krueger, a principal at advisory firm Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, which conducted the economic-impact study with several partners, conceded that projected attendance of three million “is a large number. But, by year 10, with all of these pieces and the international recognition of the NFL and the Hall of Fame, those projections could be achievable.”
Rams DEs Chris Long, William Hayes confront homelessness in St. Louis
ESPN May 31, 2015
The idea was hatched as the St. Louis Rams' team bus inched through a rugged part of downtown St. Louis, and, like many of the plans William Hayes and Chris Long come up with, it wasn't taken very seriously. Hayes and Long are the team's jokesters, bantering about everything from the existence of mermaids to opening a plus-size yoga studio.
But this conversation was different. From their comfortable seats in the bus, they saw homeless people on the streets, and Hayes turned to Long and asked him if he thought they could handle living like that. Hayes had been moved by the plight of the homeless since his days in Tennessee when he befriended a man who panhandled near the Titans' practice facility. On the Rams' bus, Hayes told Long he wanted to experience what it was like to be homeless and asked if Long would join him.
They'd turn in their cell phones and credit cards and wander the streets in sub-40-degree temperatures with no place to go. Long, one of the NFL's deep thinkers, gave Hayes a funny look at first, but then he said yes.
"I wasn't going to let him do that alone," Long says. "I'm sure he wouldn't let me, either."
They are best friends with little in common, aside from the fact that they are both enormous 30-year-old men who play defensive end. Chris Long has never wanted for anything. His mother is a retired lawyer and his father is Howie Long, a Hall of Fame defensive end. Shortly after Howie's career ended, he moved his family from Los Angeles to a 65-acre spread in Virginia because they had the means to live anywhere, and this seemed the most peaceful place to settle in. Chris inherited many of his father's athletic gifts, dominated in college at the University of Virginia, and was picked second overall in the 2008 draft.
Hayes wasn't invited to the NFL combine back in '08, and it was a surprise when the Titans selected the unknown lineman from Winston-Salem State in the fourth round. As his parents scrimped to stay afloat, his childhood was full of nos: No, he couldn't have the toy he wanted, and no, this bill couldn't be paid on time. But Hayes had a roof over his head and food in his belly. He was happy. He was showered with love, and never felt as if he was missing anything. It wasn't until Hayes was older that he realized how much his family really struggled.
The thing Hayes loved most about Long is that he never acted like a guy who had everything. "Treat the bellman the same as you treat the president of the United States," Howie Long used to tell his three boys, hoping that privilege wouldn't affect the way they acted toward others.
Long's mom, Diane, always called her son an old soul. He has a bucket list, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and started a project to help provide clean water to the underprivileged in east Africa. He has always seen the world differently. But he had no clue what kind of challenges the homeless face.
For the past several years, the Rams' defensive line has donated $1,000 for every sack to the St. Patrick Center, a local homeless resource. Long had never visited the center.
Meanwhile, Hayes became a regular. He took a group of teenagers to the movies and played bingo at the Rosati Group Home, St. Patrick's mental illness facility. This spring, Hayes treated about 15 homeless people to a meal at Golden Corral, an all-you-can-eat buffet.
"I'm telling you, you'd thought they'd died and went to heaven," says Judson Bliss, chief program officer at St. Patrick. "It's very rare for these folks, so it was very special.
"We have a lot of people who give money to us, and that's a good thing. But I think a lot of these social problems that we have, with homelessness and the violence, what it really does take is people being involved in other people's lives. That's what makes a difference."
HAYES IS SO entertaining that some say he deserves his own reality show, and, sure enough, this had all the makings for prime-time television. Long and Hayes wore makeup, hats and second-hand clothing to avoid being recognized. They were followed around by hidden ESPN cameras and were flanked by an off-duty police officer in case they ran into trouble.
Many of these details were hammered out by Nicole Woodie, the Rams' community outreach manager. Woodie went to several thrift stores in search of clothes big enough to fit 270- and 280-pound bodies. She then distressed the clothes to make them look more lived-in, adding dirt and holes.
Long and Hayes took to the streets on the afternoon of March 22, Hayes in floodwater pants too short for his long legs; Long with penciled-in wrinkles around his eyes. Though the forecast called for a fairly mild evening, the temperature dropped into the 30s. Between them, Long and Hayes had $8 in their pockets.
Surprisingly, neither one was recognized, even when they panhandled for money to buy hamburgers just outside the Edward Jones Dome, their home on Sundays. When night fell, they searched for a place to sleep. Long and Hayes found warmth from a fire in a barrel, but were quickly chased off by a scruffy middle-aged man who said they were trespassing on his space.
They came upon an empty box truck and slept in the back. It provided little warmth, and Hayes couldn't sleep.
"I wasn't scared," he says, "but it was more so the idea of not knowing the next move. I'm trying to close my eyes. We have a security guard with us, but he was like, 'If somebody really wanted to come in here to lift this thing up to shoot all of us and rob us, they could easily do it.'
"Basically, I'm trying to sleep, but I'm trying to figure out what's going to be my next move in the morning. When you get up, it's like, gosh, we've got nowhere to go."
They awoke just after 5 a.m. It rained that morning, and Long said he was glad they were able to experience the elements. Hayes wasn't so enthusiastic. Their experiment lasted about 24 hours. Then they hopped in a van and toured the places they'd gone the day before. When they reached the abandoned warehouse where they'd gone to warm up near the fire, they came upon the man who ran them off the night before. His name is Marty.
Marty ran his own construction business once, but then he split up with his wife, got some DWIs and couldn't get his driver's license back. His life unraveled, and he wound up in the warehouse along with a homeless woman named Nancy, whom he was trying to protect.
Hayes and Long were so moved by Marty's story that they decided to put him and Nancy up in an extended-stay hotel for two months. When Woodie came by to pick them up a couple of days later, Marty was surprised. He said he didn't think anyone would come back. So many times in their lives, nobody came back.
"It's something intangible," Woodie says. "It's like someone believes in them and has hope in them.
"We want this to be the moment that changes their lives forever. We hope that's the case. We also know it might not be."
Hayes and Long bought disposable cell phones for Marty and Nancy and paid for groceries and bus passes.
Marty found a job in construction recently; Nancy received help through outreach support. But it's far more complicated than that. The issues that put them on the streets for years can't be fixed in two months.
Hayes is "absolutely" worried about them, he says. "I can't change the world. They could relapse.
"With Marty, I see he wants to make a difference. I feel like he was getting tired of the lifestyle he was living."
When Hayes came up with the idea for this experiment, he did not want cameras following him and Long. He didn't want to make it look like he was grandstanding or being fake. But both Woodie and the St. Patrick Center encouraged him to use his platform to raise awareness of homelessness.
Both Hayes and Long say the experience changed their lives. Hayes hated the way people stared at him as he walked the streets, judging him by the way he looked. Long used to look the other way when he saw a homeless person. He'd write checks to the St. Patrick Center, but for a long time, he says, the people there were just faceless recipients of his good fortune. Long made his first trip to the facility right after his night on the streets, and promised he'd be back.
"We don't understand," Long says. "We weren't hoping to understand. We were just hoping to gain a little perspective and put kind of a feeling with the cause that we had been [donating to] from a distance the last couple of years."
Long went home that night, rested his head on a pillow in his apartment and stared at the ceiling. He felt warm and lucky, but not quite comfortable. He hopes that feeling lasts.