A Philly native returns to his roots as annual Playground Build unites entire Eagles organization

The Philadelphia Eagles closed their offices on Wednesday and went out into the community to make a difference.

The 23rd annual Eagles Playground Build took place in the Frankford section of Philadelphia on Wednesday at the Allen M. Stearne Elementary School. Kids from kindergarten through eighth grade attend the school in an economically challenged neighborhood that changed dramatically through the course of a day.

Every Eagles employee attended and picked up a paintbrush or glued together a mosaic or built a sturdy play structure or tended to the grounds of the school. The team’s players and coaches arrived early in the afternoon and did the same, painting by numbers and mixing with the children and generally making for a great Eagles day for everyone.

In the midst of it was Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, beaming at the community interaction. He’s the one who makes all of this happen, from everything that goes down on the football field to the sincere efforts the team puts into making Philadelphia and its surroundings a better place to live. Just a couple of weekends ago the Eagles hosted their second annual Eagles Autism Challenge and raised nearly $3.4 million dollars, bringing its two-year total to nearly $6 million that is directed toward autism research and development. On Wednesday, the Eagles dug in and transformed a school and a neighborhood.

“When we started it, we had no idea it would continue,” said Lurie after taking his turn painting one of the five murals on the school’s exterior walls. “It’s been such a great experience for all the kids at all of these schools and for the entire organization to come together and see these neighborhoods year after year. It puts things in perspective for everyone.”

This is the vision Lurie had when he purchased the team in 1994 from Norman Braman and quickly went about establishing a nonprofit in Eagles Youth Partnership that became the envy of the sports world. The times have changed through the years and the various programs have been updated, but the mission is always the same: Make a difference in the community each and every day. It’s not just those in the Community Relations department given that task. Every employee, player, coach, and staff member understands the expectations.

The Philadelphia Eagles are more than a football team.

“This is what I hoped for. I really wanted us to be known as a franchise that was community first. You know, you try to do the best you can on the field every year and we certainly are obsessed with winning more championships, but you can be a great community company year in and year out and that’s what we strive to be. I know that we have the most incredible fan base anywhere, so anything we can do to give back, it’s very fulfilling.

“Our culture is that we don’t separate ourselves from our fans and our community. We’re all in it together. We need our fans to win big. We need our culture to win big. We need our talent to win big and on a daily basis, we don’t separate ourselves from those who are so supportive of us. There are so many problems in America, in cities today and it’s been that way for decades and it's particularly bad now. We can be part of the solution, even if it’s in a small way every day.”

One of the special parts of Wednesday was rookie Shareef Miller, who grew up not too far away from the Allen M. Stearne Elementary School neighborhood, in a classroom speaking to the children. Miller made it out of the tough environment in Frankford. He’s doing what he can to ensure that others have a path to follow.

"This is great. This is great. I'm so happy that this school was selected, especially in the Frankford area because I know how tough it is. For these kids to have a playground that's painted, to have the Eagles come, it brings a lot of smiles to their faces. I'm happy to be a part of it," said Miller, who went to Harding Middle School about a mile from Stearne.

"It's surreal to see the look on the kids' faces when I tell them I'm from where they're from. That's a good thing about what I do. It puts a smile on their faces. Shows them hope that they can be whatever they want to be. I came where they came from and explain to them that I had the right group of people around me. You have to have the right work ethic. You have to outwork people. There's a million and one people who want to do the same thing you want to do. The main thing is always believe in yourself."

As the staff and the players and coaches boarded the buses to return to the NovaCare Complex at 2:30 p.m., the job was nearly complete. What was grey and drab was filled with life and color. The school children bounded joyfully on the artificial turf playing area and climbed the bars of the play structure and posed for pictures with the players and coaches. The school grounds of Allen M. Stearne School were forever changed.

Mission accomplished.

“There aren’t a lot of teams that have these kinds of events as a team, as an organization,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It starts with Mr. Lurie and his vision and then we have a lot of behind-the-scenes people that spend months working on projects like this. I make sure the players understand that our responsibilities extend beyond what we do on the field. Of course, we’re here to win football games. That’s our job. But we know we can make a difference in people’s lives every day and I’m proud that our team – our players and coaches, our staff members – all work together to make days like this possible. It’s really a pretty remarkable thing that we do out here.”

The Eagles built a brand new playground at Allen M. Stearne School in Philadelphia. Check out the best photos!

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