Retired athletes and nonprofits inspire SWFL kids to lead

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

Retired professional athletes in partnership with nonprofit organizations spoke in front of a crowd of nearly 200 Southwest Florida students at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall at FSW Friday. The goal was to make sure students went home with food over the weekend and to tell them they are already leaders, no matter what.

“The biggest thing I learned is to be kind and never follow other people who are being bad because you have to be the leader you want to be,” second-grader Natali Ramirez said.

Ramirez said she wants to be a leader, maybe as a teacher or a coach when she gets older.

All students in attendance went home meeting Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger and a bag filled with food for the weekend.

“What if your friend says, ‘We’re going to skip school today because classes aren’t important?’” asked Adam Piatt, former MLB outfielder.

All the kids enthusiastically screamed, ‘No.’

Around two dozen former professional athletes — baseball players, NFL linemen and PGA champions —spoke to the students.

“Being a better person and in the end that’s what it’s all about,” said, Ki-Jana Carter, the 1995 first overall NFL draft pick. “Obviously, we all like eating. Some of us like eating more than others. But having healthy nutrition is very important.”

The wise words from the retired athletes were served up with a free breakfast provided by 501 C (3) nonprofit organizations Blessing in a Backpack and Champions 4 Children.

During the school year in Lee County, Blessings in a Backpack gives food to 4,300 children, so they can have something to eat over the weekend.

“And I have several schools still on a waiting list,” said Cecilia St. Arnold, executive director of Blessing in a Backpack.

Blessing in a backpack said there are 60,000 elementary students in Southwest Florida who struggle to get the nutrition they need over the weekend.

The organization also hopes to pass on encouraging messages to the kids they affect.

“We want you every day to be the best kid you can be,” said Jack “Goose” Givens, former Atlanta Hawks player.

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