Rhett Ellison met Jenny DePaul a few years ago at one of his first community events as a member of the New York Giants. The veteran tight end was struck by how personal the founder of Project KIND 123 was with everybody.
- From that first impression of DePaul and her organization that creates opportunities and builds support systems for those experiencing homelessness, grew a partnership. From that partnership blossomed the Worthy of Love Fest, which for the second year in a row welcomed 100 people to MetLife Stadium in late August. The Giants and Project KIND provided food, showers, haircuts, clothes, personalized lockers, stadium tours and social service agents to help their every need.
"You don't see that a lot in these kinds of organizations," Ellison said of Project KIND. "Sometimes it's just 'give them stuff' and it's not as personal. Jenny knows everybody in this room, and they all know Jenny. That's something you don't really see, so instantly I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to help her as much as I could.
"Obviously the Giants, the organization that they are, they go above and beyond for the guys, for the players. With (Director of Community & Youth Football Relations) Ethan (Medley), if any player in the locker room is like, 'Hey, I've got a cause I want to be a part of,' he's on it. And I've never seen anything like that in any other (organization). I don't think there's anything like that in the NFL. So partnering the Giants with Jenny was just like a match made in heaven."
Through its mobile street outreach team, Project KIND also provides mentoring, emergency/temporary housing, information, referrals to assisted programs, encouragement and support.
Its mission is to help those experiencing homelessness by providing the support that will allow them to focus on their strengths and purpose while overcoming their challenges and circumstance so they are able to get off the street.
"The goal is just to love on them," Ellison said. "Fill them up with love, just get them and connect them with the right people, encourage them. Just let them know that they're worth it. … Everyone is a super Giants fan. I mean, there's always some Cowboys fans because, I don't know why, but huge Giants fans. So it's just been a lot of fun to connect. They know football. They talk football. So it's a lot of fun. It's an awesome event to be a part of, and the Giants made it happen."
DePaul started Project KIND at a time in her life when she wanted to "refocus." She really thought about what she was blessed with and what she could do without.
"When you see a need, it may overwhelm you and you don't know where to begin," DePaul said. "We literally just looked in our cabinets, made a few sandwiches, got a few hats and things like that. With Project KIND, my desire was to create ways for people to give. It could be your time, your knowledge, your resources, your talents. There's all sorts of things you can give to somebody. It doesn't matter how you give or what you do. All that matters is you're doing something."
Ellison, a veteran leader in the locker room, rounded up his teammates to attend the two Worthy of Love Fests. Center Jon Halapio shares his passion to help homelessness and sought out Ellison during spring practices to get involved with Project KIND. Fellow tight end Evan Engram did the same thing, and outside linebacker Kareem Martin has always been a part of it since he attended the same event where Ellison connected with the organization.
"They loved it because it's a different kind of event," Ellison said. "It's a very personal event. You can hang out, you can talk to these guys, and just encourage them. "That's the most emotional part. A lot of these people feel forgotten. They feel like no one cares about them. You would hope that they know that they're loved and that we do care about them and we want to help them. We want to help them get out of homelessness. There are a lot of people in this community that are trying to do that for these people. Hopefully they feel encouraged, they feel loved, and they feel hope."
For more information, visit projectkind123.org.
View photos of TE Rhett Ellison, who announced his retirement on Monday.