I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago with a Catholic upbringing. I remember in grammar and high school having exchanges with an inner city sister schools, volunteering to cook at shelters and focusing on the service for others in need. As we get older, sometimes it's easy to get wrapped up in work and life forgetting to make the time to help others or making the excuse, "Next time or soon."
A lot of press releases have come my way since the holidays began for this special event or new holiday menus. But one stuck out just before Thanksgiving that made me sit up and remember my youth. The kitchen and management team at Trump & Sixteen were going to cook Thanksgiving dinner and get helping serving it from Bill Rancic, Greg Olson, Matt Forte, Israel Idonije and Chris Gardner for the Mercy Home for Boys & Girls.
The Home for Boys is located not far from the Loop on Jackson but it might as well be a world away from the norm. They recently built out a new, beautiful cafeteria and that opening week Chef Frank Brunacci and his team committed to a Thanksgiving Feast. I arrived early and said hello to chef and just kind of sat back and watched the hotel managers and employees serve the kids who've struggled in life more than I ever will at such a young age. It made me reflect and confront how lucky I am and have been in my life. I don't often have reality checks but this was one of them.
I talked with Father Scott the head of the program about my experiences growing up and was in awe of how he knew each boy and girl not only by name but with a story to make them feel special. As they would find a seat, he would share something about them or the other children in the program. Often times a leader may know enough to get by but Father Scott genuinely loved his mission and the results it achieved. He also wasn't oblivious to the fact he was mixing the adolescent girls and boys joking, "Oh there will be some connections made tonight. I can already see them trying to gain attention from each other." But what teenager wouldn't given the opportunity?
The Bears players' arrival was greeted with the typical awe and they immediately jumped in to help. Greg Olson joked that Israel should take two trays since he's so big and that Forte should be faster. Bill Rancic a big supporter was enjoying the moment as well. The name Chris Gardner gnawed at me and I couldn't recall exactly how I knew it. Then I remembered the movie "Pursuit of Happiness" and how it was his story being immortalized. He's not a small man and could have been mistaken for a former NFL player.
Once dinner was served the guests were introduced and the loudest and most raucous cheers were for Chris Gardner. It made me realize that these kids didn't place there future hopes and dreams with a football career but with a man who had walked a difficult road and come out a success on the other side. These teens may have had a hard life but they weren't dumb. It made me realize as well Father Scott and his team has them focused on the right path.
It's not often you'll find me being a quiet fly on the wall just observing but I was grateful for the opportunity. On this last day of Hanukkah and a mere fortnight before Christmas it's easy to get wrapped up in the gifts and family drama. What's difficult is remembering those who haven't been as lucky or fortunate and find our own sense of thanks.
I normally have a video on Thursday's. I'm moving that up a day to demonstrate the impact and success of the Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. If you've got a few minutes check out today's video of those who've benefitted from the privately funded home, it's been around for nearly 125 yrs. I'd also like to thank the Trump team for inviting me to the event and commend them on the service work they've quietly done.
If you'd like more info on Mercy Home or to donate, you can check them out at www.mercyhome.org
Photos by Steve Becker