NFL locker rooms are filled with people from all walks of life. The common denominator is each person has faced adversity in some form and wouldn't be where he is today without help along the way.
That is why the Giants have been paying it forward with Covenant House New Jersey, which provides comprehensive residential care and related services to New Jersey's youth who have suffered from abuse, neglect, abandonment, and homelessness – and helps them build a life of their own.
"The odds for me to be in this position are extremely unlikely," said defensive back Logan Ryan, a New Jersey native. "I had to have a lot of hope. I had to be resilient. I needed to have some helping hands, and I think that's where the Covenant House provides – a helping hand, a lending hand to help these kids because you've got to be able to have a big dream. You have to fulfill your dream. You have to be big dreamers. Even though it doesn't look great right now in your situation, you have to have a dream of, 'Man, one day I want to be in the NFL. One day, I want to be a doctor. Or I'm going to be a lawyer. I'm going to go to Harvard.' When you dream like that and you work at it and you stay disciplined and you get some of that timely help, you can end up in this chair one day."
The continued work with Covenant House New Jersey is part of the Giants' "Team of Teams" initiative. During an unprecedented offseason, players and coaches split themselves into nine groups, each one paired with an organization in a dedicated region within New York and New Jersey. These community partners have a focus on racial injustice, criminal justice reform, education and economic advancement, police-community relations, and voter registration.
Cornerback James Bradberry recently joined Ryan and executive director Jim White for a conversation about the work of Covenant House New Jersey. Super Bowl champion Victor Cruz, another player who grew up in the area, moderated the event.
"When you're always worried about where you're going to be and what your next meal is going to be, you can't really think about the future," White said. "You're just kind of thinking about the day-to-day. So, our job is to let them know they don't have to worry about the day-to-day; they can start to look beyond that. What's really important about our work, too, is that we need to recognize their goodness … their resilience, their strengths, their guts. They're funny, they're clever, they're intelligent, they're creative. We have to see their goodness, and then we have to try to work with them to build on those strengths and start to build a life and moving forward."
White, who began his career with Covenant House in 1982, has devoted his life to helping young people in crisis overcome their circumstances to move forward to a future and a life that is good. In 1989, they began serving New Jersey's homeless youth through street outreach, offering food, clothing, counseling and referrals for shelter. That makes it more than 30 years that Covenant House New Jersey has been serving homeless youth between the ages of 18 to 21 while currently operating in seven cities across the state.
"We all know how important youth homelessness is around the area," Bradberry said. "There are other initiatives we can attack through that, too, with financial literacy and voting. … Just me being able to help them navigate through that, whether it's building a resume and responsibilities once you get that job, it's about being a mentor."
The mission of Covenant House New Jersey begins with letting the young people know they are safe and providing basic needs of food and clothing. Then the organization journeys with them from the streets to residential crisis centers, to transitional living homes, and on to independent living in the community to help them break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.
"If you're a kid on the street, you can probably hold it together for one night," White said. "But if you're out there two or three nights, you've got to start making choices just to survive. You've got to break into places to get out of the weather, food, and those things. And you can really get yourself into trouble. So, one of our jobs is to get kids off the street immediately and then provide them food, shelter, and clothing. Then begin to provide the services necessary to move forward in their lives. So, it could be education, work, documentation – we have social workers, lawyers, all sorts of people who can wrap around our young people, help them stabilize, and then move forward with their lives."
This "Team of Teams" picked Covenant House New Jersey with an assist from running back Saquon Barkley, who previously hosted a pizza party to introduce the players to the residents of Covenant House.
The Giants now turn their focus to the “Executive Sleepout” event, which encourages individuals to sleep out on the street in support of the young adults at CHNJ. Barkley is the chairperson for the event for the second year, and the challenge will be for supporters to sleep out at their own homes.
"Think about it, 2020 has affected everybody in general," Ryan said. "It's a struggle in people's personal lives. It's a struggle in our life, our day-to-day has changed on the field and with our routine. That's small compared to what these kids are dealing with. You've got to think beyond yourself and bigger than yourself."