Michael Thomas' fierce commitment to leadership and community service was once again recognized last week, when the eight-year veteran was honored by the United Way of New York City at the 26th Annual Gridiron Gala. Thomas and Avery Williamson of the New York Jets both received the prestigious Hometown Hero Award for their outstanding leadership and commitment to community.
"I just want to say thank you for this award," Thomas said during his acceptance speech. "It's humbling, especially for where I'm at in my career. I don't do this for the awards. I don't do this for the applause. I definitely want to represent the Giants organization well and my family well. Thank you to the United Way of New York City."
Since the beginning of last season, Thomas has served as the spokesperson for the Giants' Character Playbook program with the United Way of New York City and EverFi. Launched in 2016, Character Playbook is an education initiative that focuses on youth character development and building healthy relationships.
Thomas kicked off the third year of the Character Playbook program last fall at Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem. Thomas worked with groups of seventh-grade students to better understand and manage their emotions. The Houston, Texas native led students through the Character Playbook course and ran a charades activity where volunteers from the classroom joined him on stage to depict certain emotions and have their peers figure out the emotion they were displaying. Thomas hosted an end-of-year celebration for students who completed the Character Playbook at Mott Hall V High School in the Bronx.
"To go to Eagle Academy and the school in the Bronx was definitely an eye-opening experience," Thomas said. "Like I told Joshua and those kids the day I was there, I wish I had a program like that when I was growing up. To see those young men dealing with adversity, to see them reciting these acronyms and what it means to them and actually applying it and seeing them speak the way they spoke, having that confidence. I know that could've done wonders for those who look like me who grew up in the schools I grew up in."
Nearly 1,000 guests joined Thomas and Williamson at the New York Hilton Midtown for the event. Hosted by CBS sports anchor Otis Livingston, Fox 5 NY sports anchor Tina Cervasio and former Giants running back Rashad Jennings, the Gridiron Gala celebrates the partnership between the United Way and the NFL, which goes back more than 40 years. According to the United Way of New York City, the event raised more than $2 million to strengthen communities and help low-income New Yorkers move along the path toward self-sufficiency.
"Since the inception of the Gridiron Gala, more than $30 million have been raised in support of United Way of New York City's initiatives in education, health, and financial stability for NYC children and families," said Sheena Wright, President & CEO of United Way of New York City. "Teaming up with the New York Giants and New York Jets showcases how critical collaboration and teamwork are in helping low-income families achieve self-sufficiency, and we are so grateful for their continued partnership."
For Thomas, the Hometown Hero Award is the latest recognition for his dedication to off-the-field work. Thomas was the Giants 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee. In his hometown of Houston, the Giants' special teams co-captain hosts the annual "Mike T" camp, which focuses on leadership, academics, SAT/ACT prep, financial literacy and athletics. Last year, he gave away his first $10,000 college scholarship to a camp participant. Last spring, Thomas partnered with Americares and traveled with his wife Gloria and several teammates to Puerto Rico on a three-day trip to deliver aid and medical supplies to areas affected by Hurricane Maria.
Thomas is also taking his talents to Capitol Hill where he just finished his second three-week internship with Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents his district in Houston. For the second year in a row, Thomas found himself in Washington to work on issues such as criminal justice reform, bail reform, education and re-entry for juveniles in detention centers. Thomas has already pledged to return for a third internship in 2020.