On Sunday, the Colts traveled back from L.A. after playing their first game of the season against the Chargers.
The next day, they held their first Community Monday of the season - surprising students at an Indianapolis elementary school with new uniforms.
“I got home at like 1:45 AM,” said linebacker Zaire Franklin. “When it comes to helping out the youth and helping out the kids, you’ve got to get up out of bed. There’s nothing more important than making sure the kids are right.”
Joined by the Colts Cheerleaders, Colts mascot, Blue, and their partners at Omnisource, Franklin and his teammates went room to room at Charles W. Fairbanks School #105 greeting students with hugs and high-fives and leaving them with essentials for a successful start to the school year.
“We got a chance to come in and give these kids a gift bag filled with school clothes, a pencil case, toiletries, belts, socks, everything they would need to get a jump start on the school year,” he said, “So they can come to school fresh, feeling clean, and they can just focus on learning.”
It’s something near and dear to his heart. In fact, Franklin did something similar in his hometown of Philadelphia last season.
“I had a school in a similar environment in Philadelphia. We went in and we got uniforms for the whole school. We got them a Colts gift bag, got a chance to sit and talk with the kids and hang out for a little while,” he said. “Kids today face so many challenges and they’re at such a disadvantage and it’s really not their fault. There’s really nothing they can do about it.”
In those kids, Franklin sees himself.
“For me personally, coming from a school like this, living in a place like this - it’s just extremely important for me to be able to come back.”
Because in many cases, kids with less have more to deal with.
“This student population is very transient. A lot of the students that registered at the time that we did our original count have had to move to new housing situations - whether it be foster care, their parents had to move into a new home, a lot of homelessness - there’s a lot of stuff happening in these students’ lives before they get to school,” said Ashley Scott, Family and Community Engagement Manager for the Indianapolis Public Schools.
Taking a break from football to give kids a much needed break in their school day was just as beneficial for the players.
On Monday the Indianapolis Colts and Omnisource teamed up to provide students living in temporary housing or shelters, experiencing economic hardship or a similar situation a school uniform package to eliminate clothing as a barrier in getting to school and staying in school.
“I always love Community Mondays for that reason,” said Franklin. “Because no matter what happens on Sunday, good or bad - you don’t get a chance to celebrate in your victory or sulk in your defeat. You’ve got to get outside of yourself and go do something for somebody else.”
“It’s just the right thing to do with the position we’re in,” said guard Quenton Nelson. “It puts a smile on their face and that means a lot for us players. Just seeing the kids’ jaws dropping, the excitement, the smiles, it makes it really worth it.”
“It put that perspective in, especially after a tough loss,” said rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke. “The opportunity and the impact we have as Colts players to cheer up kids and give back to them is really cool.”
It was the first Community Monday for Okereke and rookie tight end Hale Hentges.
But giving back is nothing new for them.
Hentges got involved in a furniture ministry during his college years at the University of Alabama.
“That really got started because our starting running back, Josh Jacobs, his whole life he never had a bed. He slept on a floor. That was something that really hit home for a lot of us. It makes it feel more personal,” he said.
Now, serving alongside his Colts teammates feels just as special.
“To make an impact is just a blessing and a great group of guys to do it with,” he said.
For kids, meeting a Colts player is an opportunity they’ll never forget.
“When you get a chance to watch people on TV all the time, it kind of becomes make believe,” said Franklin. “They don’t seem like real people until you meet them and you can reach out and touch them.”
What they left them with is something that can make a real difference in their lives.
“A lot of our kids come to school with a lot of extra baggage that we may or may not understand. But we also know that having clothes and looking nice is a very important part of coming to school and being ready to learn,” said Principal Paula Peterson. “When kids are dressed appropriately and they feel good, it levels the playing field."
That’s what the Colts strive to do - use the gifts they’ve been given to entertain, inspire, and unite.
And to level the playing field for Hoosier kids - one student at a time.