The New York Giants have a longstanding partnership with My Sisters' Place, a non-profit organization that strives to end domestic violence and human trafficking through comprehensive services, advocacy, and community education.
In the spirit of always wanting to do more, the organizations came together to create the "Giants Steps Through Athletics" fellowship, which is currently implemented at Mt. Vernon High School in Westchester County, N.Y. It is a youth-led project that partners high school student athletes and community sports programs, centering around education on healthy relationships.
And this is where the "Team of Teams" got involved.
When coach Joe Judge split the Giants into nine groups in the offseason -- each one paired with an organization in a dedicated region within New York and New Jersey -- the fellowship became a passion of the players.
"A lot of guys felt very strongly about this," punter Riley Dixon said. "Through the relationship that we have with My Sisters' Place, it was the best way for us to get in touch with these kids and be able to help them in any way that we can. … Just be able to share our experiences and help them as much as we can, but also we learned a lot from them in the process."
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted everyday life, and the mentorship program became even more important as classes shifted to remote learning and the high school's football season was ultimately pushed back to March, 2021. First-year coach Mark Murray struggled with keeping his team focused, so he turned to the Giants.
After all, they were dealing with the similar things. The Giants had a first-time head coach and a whole new way of life as the world grappled with the pandemic. Coach Murray had the idea to partner two or three students on his team with a member of the Giants, who created videos to motivate the students to prepare for their season as well as the school year. These turned into live calls on a regular basis and included a variety of topics, including the current social justice climate.
"I was having a lot of issues getting players to buy into the Zoom practices," Murray said. "We had the opportunity to have conversations with New York Giants players via Zoom, and literally it turned things around for the better. These conversations led to our team buying into the Zoom workouts, but not only [that]. I started seeing change in them and them wanting to do better, them actually understanding tunnel vision. So without this program, my first year as a head coach in Mount Vernon, if you know anything about Mount Vernon, it would have been a very, very scary thing with COVID, with not being able to be a part of inner circle in the building. This really was a big, humongous help. So I really do want to personally thank coach Judge and the New York Giants organization."
"I want these kids to have hope," Dixon said. "It's so hard doing what they're doing at the high school level. Being here in professional football, we're fortunate enough to have a lot of resources. We're able to get tested every day. I just want these kids to know that we understand their pain. We're not going through it as much as they are, but we understand it and we're there. I want them to see that we care and we're supporting them every step of the way. With everything else going on, I want them to keep the main goal in mind. And as hard as it is to see the outcome of their work and the schoolwork and all the work they're putting on the football field, I want them to know that that stuff isn't for null."
On top of the mentorship program, the Giants surprised Murray with a $10,000 equipment grant as his team needed new helmets. The Giants also named him the Lou Rettino High School Coach of the Week earlier this month.
"We're into 21 seasons with the Giants," said Karen Cheeks-Lomax, chief executive officer of My Sisters' Place. "The support has been extraordinary. Obviously, the program that we're talking about really demonstrates the Giants' commitment to community and young, really talented individuals who need the mentorship, need the support from an organization like [the Giants]. I've always been thankful to [Giants president] John [Mara] and the rest of the team and all the folks that have made all this happen.
"The Giants put their money where their mouth is. Not only are they supporting us, but they have their team, their whole unit of folks, the whole organization has come in over the last couple of years to be trained around domestic violence and human trafficking and the impacts. And that means everything."