Thrilling energy filled the atmosphere of SOS Children’s Villages Illinois’ “Tailgate Tuesday” on September 10, 2019. In celebration of the beginning of another academic year, SOS Illinois staff, Foster Parents, children, and volunteers gathered on the green space of the Chicago Village for an afternoon jam-packed with football-themed activities, tailgate treats, and plenty of laughter. Among the buzz was the anticipation of the arrival a special guest who would be paying to our unique Illinois foster care agency: Chicago Bears’ Akiem Hicks.
SOS Illinois Welcomes Akiem Hicks with Open Arms and Cheers
As the gathering awaited the appearance of the Chicago Defensive Lineman, participants filled up their time with plenty of outdoor fun. With the help of volunteers from T-Mobile and PHMG, children enjoyed special games, an “inspiration station”, a table full of crafts, exploration of the community garden, and snacks from the “concession stand.” Despite being filled with energy, the group grew attentive and quiet when the announcement was given that Hicks was making his way down to the re-created football field spray-painted on the grass, complete with a 15-foot high homemade field goal post, where the celebration was being held.
As Hicks strolled up to the sea of children ringing cowbells and holding signs decked-out with his jersey number, parents and staff members snapped quick photos and joined the children in cheers. High-fiving members of the gathering as he passed, Hicks greeted SOS Illinois families with a supportive speech and a wide smile.
Akiem Hicks Offers Wisdom to our Youth
“To me, preparing for the school year is similar to gearing up for a game. You have to get ready, set goals, and stay focused,” Hicks said, joined by his supportive mother, Desiree. “Success on the field or in the classroom is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
Desiree, beaming as she watched her son speak, was praised by SOS Illinois Chief Executive Officer, Tim McCormick, as he introduced her and called her up to the front of the group. McCormick explained that SOS Illinois understands the importance of a supportive caregiver. Sharing in the sentiment, Hicks expressed that he would not be where he is today without the support and love he receives from his mother, whose influence is the reason he feels the need to give back and care for his fellow teammates and communities.
One of those fellow teammates on the Bears, wide receiver Riley Ridley and his older brother, Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley, spent a portion of their childhood at SOS Children’s Villages Florida. Seeing major success stories such as these, paired with the encouragement of idols such as Hicks, plays a major part in sparking ambitious spirits in children as they look toward a hopeful future.
“Children in foster care really don’t have a voice,” said McCormick to members of the press. “Often, in the education system, the healthcare system, even in communities, children don’t know some of the things that have been going on, and they feel invisible. When someone like Akiem Hicks of the Chicago Bears comes here, these children realize, ‘Wow, we really are something, and people do care.’”
We’re fortunate that this is not the first time the children at SOS Illinois have enjoyed the support of Chicago Bears athletes. Previously, Anthony “Spice” Adams, former Chicago Bears Defensive Tackle, joined our community to lend his support for foster care in Illinois by running the “Magic Minute” for us to gather gifts for children and families in our care.
Hicks Gifts the Children with Backpacks and Hope
After Hicks’ speech to the children, he was presented with a signed football with every child’s name. He, then, graciously gifted each child with a new backpack to help make the new school year a great success. It was then Hicks’ to join the fun. Activities included Hicks practicing football moves on the faux field with the children, coloring with the younger youth at the inspiration station, and participating as judge of the “touchdown dance competition” hosted for a prize. Each child enjoyed their time with Hicks, many mentioning that it was the most exciting time of the summer season.
Gratitude for Akiem Hicks and the Chicago Bears
We are immensely grateful for the support, empowerment, and kindness of Akiem Hicks and the Chicago Bears team, as well as for the hard work of the Tailgate Tuesday volunteers from PHMG and T-Mobile. Together with your support, we are creating stronger futures for youth in foster care, inspiring the next generation of leaders on – and off the football field.