Football stars bring joy to disabled kids with visit

Football stars bring joy to disabled kids with visit

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Football stars bring joy to disabled kids with visit

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MOUNTAINSIDE

A two-hour visit to Children’s Specialized Hospital was worth a lifetime to Hailey Rachko.

“It was really moving because you see how lucky you really are,” said Rachko, a rising sophomore at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School and one of 75 football players and cheerleaders from the Union County All-Star team visiting the hospital Monday for a Snapple Bowl XX pep rally.

“You meet the kids and see how they really live,” Rachko added. “It’s interesting to me because I enjoy volunteering with kids with disabilities and getting to know them and how they react, so it’s really a cool experience.”

The hospital is the largest not-for-profit pediatric rehabilitation health system in the U.S., providing care for children affected by traumatic brain injury, brain tumors, stroke, spinal cord injury and dysfunction, complications of premature birth, autism, developmental delays, mental health issues and other life-changing injuries or illnesses. Most patients will remain there until they turn 21 and are moved to an adult facility.

“Children’s Specialized Hospital is so fortunate to have community partners like those involved in the Snapple Bowl,” said Beth Anne Dobosh, Children’s Specialized Hospital’s director of community engagement.

“Every child that comes through our doors is never turned away regardless of a family’s inability to pay or lack of insurance. Over the course of the last several years, our children — some of the most medically fragile in the area — are able to receive the love and care they need and desperately deserve, in most cases thanks to the continued support and generosity of these community partners.”

All proceeds from the game between recently graduated seniors, which kicks off 7 p.m. Thursday at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium, will benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and The Lakeview School, a program of The New Jersey Institute for Disabilities. The latter received a visit Monday from the Middlesex County All-Stars.

Since its inception, the event has raised more than $415,00 for both charities, including a single-game record $47,000 last summer.

“It (the visit) is very rewarding and it makes you feel really blessed to have what we have being athletes,” said New Providence defensive lineman Nick Iannacone. “God blessed us to play football at a high level. My heart goes out to all these kids because I can’t imagine what the burden is like on them and their families.

“We take everything we have for granted,” added Iannacone. “Going to school; being able to drive our car; doing the light basics; and these kids don’t have the opportunity to have the things that we have. It make us feel how blessed we are with what we have.”

There was a feeling that the game participants benefited as much from Monday’s visit as the patients.

“It really makes you proud to be a part of something bigger then yourself,” said Ianacone. “Being able to touch these kids’ lives for one day and make them really happy and be here and talk to them and do activities for them is something really special and rewarding.”

The day’s festivities included arts and crafts, as players split off with individual patients to adorn them in visors, face painting and temporary football tattoos. The cheerleaders greeted the patients with a series of cheers.

“Sometimes we take a lot of things for granted,” said Rachko, “and here you really see how lucky you are. Just to be able to speak and be able to have a conversation and be able to play sports and do cheerleading and play football are things we’ll no longer take for granted.”

Perhaps Rachko had the most appropriate summation of the visit.

“I was with a little boy … who was a lot younger than the other kids. He was quiet and nice, and you could see that he didn’t have that much emotion.

“When I put the tattoo on his arm, he smiled a little and it showed me this is what we’re doing this all for and this is why we’re here.”

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