INDIANAPOLIS – Think about it. To be best in your class is pretty cool. Best in the school? Wow, that's an honor. Best in the state? Holy Cow!
What about being recognized for what you do as being one of the best in the country? One of the best in the nation?
Well, two organizations who are ranked among the elite in the USA are working together to make Central Indiana a better place to live.
The Colts, of course, have been listed among the leaders of the NFL for over a decade. But are you aware that Riley Hospital for Children is considered the best children's hospital in the country? So, it figures that these two successful entities would partner to do some great work in the community – most of it far from the public's eye.
"The Colts have been involved with Riley informally for a long, long time," says Riley VP of Communications & Marketing Maureen Manier. "Tony Dungy helped start the BASKET of HOPE project for our cancer unit and he is still the national spokesperson. The Colts informal support has been subtle, quiet and with no fanfare. Players and coaches have come by over the years for as long as I can remember."
Manier specifically remembers Jeff Saturday being a long time supporter of Riley. "His son was burned a few years ago and he was treated at Riley. He saw what we did and he has always been there for us. We had a young boy who was dying and Jeff went to his house and spent two hours with him and his family. There are a lot of Jeff Saturday fans in our building."
But the "formal" part of the partnership was established three years ago when Colts owner Jim Irsay pledged $1 million to Riley. "That was so significant of course," says Manier. In addition to the donation the Colts continue to sponsor Riley's annual luncheon for 1400 people. It's a luncheon to say thanks to all the supporters who help the kids over the year.
One of the more visible programs established in the relationship is the popular Riley COIN TOSS KIDS program. Two of the Riley kids are selected to attend the game with their families. The kids serve as COIN TOSS ambassadors out on the field in pre game. The Colts even go to the extent of arranging a limo ride to and from the game for the VIPs. "Our kids and their families love that," adds Manier. "The kids so much look forward to it."
You will see for yourself some of the special honorees before Sunday's game vs. the Bengals. The RILEY CHAMPIONS will be honored Sunday and they will be part of the coin toss. The Champions program recognizes kids who have translated their own personal medical challenges to help make a difference in their own communities. Nominees are ages 8 to 18 and come from all over the state. In the third year of the program the number of nominees has grown each year.
One of the major fund raisers for Riley supported by the Colts is the MIRACLE RIDE, held each year at the end of May or the first weekend of June. Coach Jim Caldwell did a very successful PSA for it last year and Riley raised over $300K for their efforts.
The money and the time invested means so much to the kids according to Manier. "The average person does not know what a team like the Colts means to us. It's a nightmare to think where we would be without the Colts support. Not only the support the team gives us but the support it gives to all the charitable organizations in town. They are true members of the community and they express that in a myriad of ways. With the Colts it's about altruism."
The time and the visits are at the core of this successful partnership. "These kids are facing some of the scariest moments of their young lives and these athletes and coaches and this great team line up next to them to help," praises Manier. "The moments funnel hope and joy to the families.
The Colts create these once in a lifetime experiences and opportunities that brings joy to the kids. They go to games, they go to training camp. It's always a special occasion. They don't just get to watch practice at camp; the players and coaches spend a lot of time with them there."
But it is the hospital visits that stand out. "You know what I love?" says Manier. "I will come in and see the kids and see these photos with Jim Caldwell or with Gary Brackett. I ask them, 'where did they come from?' They say, 'oh coach came by the other night and hung out with us.' The Colts players and staff just show up and spend time. No fanfare. No PR. They are there because they care."
And they stay. "Gary Brackett came once and said he only had a specific amount of time he could spend. He ended up staying an extra hour and spent time with EVERY single kid in the unit."
And it starts at the top according to Manier. "From Jim Irsay on down. Pete Ward, Jackie Cook, Zup, etc., many of the Colts staffers are always there for us. And of course, the players and coaches! I can go on and on…."
Let's hope for our community's sake the national rankings and ratings for these two high profiled organizations and their combined, continued good works goes "on and on."