The occasion was the 17th Annual Eagles Youth Partnership Playground Build and as the players and coaches joined the entire Eagles organization turning an asphalt playground into a treasure trove of activities, the kids yelped and held up their signs and shrieked their thanks.
And the shivers went up and down the spines of everyone.
"The feeling of looking in the kids' eyes when you are walking off the bus, the excitement they have that the Eagles are in their neighborhood, in their place, you can sort of see the importance they now feel about themselves and the confidence they have," said Eagles Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Lurie. "Just the fact that we would devote a whole day, and actually weeks and months leading up to it, to their school, their playground, their situation, I think it gives them a good feeling about themselves.
"You can't measure that."
Well, in this day and age of analytics, they *are *trying to measure just how much significance a day like Wednesday has in a disadvantaged community. The WD Kelley School is in a rough neighborhood in North Philadelphia and the playground was a fenced-in area with a hardtop and not much else. To call it drab would be kind, and that's why Eagles Youth Partnership chose the spot.
In need of a makeover, the Eagles organization began its day at 8 a.m. at the school setting out the tools to landscape the garden, the paint to color in two murals on the sides of the school, two artificial turf fields, a climbing gym, a mosaic seating area and enough love and care to carry down and through the streets of North Philadelphia.
"This has got to be my favorite day of the year," said Sarah Martinez-Helfman, Eagles Youth Partnership's executive director. "It's special because the community supports the team all year around. To actually be in a neighborhood, in a school, with these kids in the community and engaged, it's beautiful. What's extra special is that when you tell a kid to dream big, you want them to do that. They helped us plan this entire day and they helped dream up what we did today. So to come out here and have it all come together, and to have the kids take part and see that their dream came true, it's very powerful.
"This is going to be here tomorrow, and the day after that and the year after that. This is the kind of thing that builds community and it's the kind of thing that builds pride and it's the kind of thing that makes a child say, 'I'm worth something. I want to be someone.' And there are so many partners who come together -- in the community, everybody -- to make this possible, to do something great."
Martinez-Helfman said that the next step is to register the results of a partnership with The Netter Center at the University of Pennsylvania on an 18-month study of the impact of the playground builds for 17 years. This is a project carried out not as an opportunity for the Eagles to pat themselves on the back; rather, it is an opportunity to see just how impactful the playground build is to a neighborhood in need.
"We're trying to make real change in kids' lives and with kids," said Martinez-Helfman.
Martinez-Helfman, through her years of experience, that the playgrounds built by the Eagles have helped schools reduce violence among the students, increase the exercise time for the kids and promote parent involvement in the school community.
With all of the troubles the Philadelphia School District has had keeping schools open and vibrant, the annual Playground Build is a magical experience.
It was that way for special teams coordinator Dave Fipp on Wednesday. He admitted to having a "tear in my eye" as he departed the bus. Fipp has been moved by the community experience since the time he joined the Eagles and he is one of the nearly three dozen Eagles volunteers who donate one day each week through the winter and spring to take part in Eagles Youth Partnership's Reading Buddies Program at Lincoln Financial Field. Second graders from the WD Kelley School bused to the stadium each Tuesday and met their reading partners and spent more than an hour reading and talking and laughing and experiencing something that will last them a lifetime.
Fipp was right there, every week. He dug in. He gave maximum effort. And when he got off the bus on Wednesday and saw one of his reading buddies, Jaylen, the two gave a big hug and a high five and enjoyed some wonderful time together.
"It's really unbelievable what the Eagles do and the experience I've had," said Fipp. "You want every kid to have a chance at living out their dream, so if I can help that, I'm all for it. To come here and see this, to see how much the school has changed, it just is unbelievable to be part of."
Wednesday's effort was tagged "Moving Toward Greatness" and the walls of the murals painted were adorned with great leaders from the sports world. It was a beautiful day, sunshine and giggles all around.
And when the Eagles returned to the NovaCare Complex, covered in paint and dirt and the satisfaction of a hard day's work done, the images remained: Of the kids dancing for joy on the two new fields, of the football game that ended the day featuring the likes of Nick Foles and Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant romping around with a bunch of the children, of the players doing the "Dougie" with the grade-school-aged students, of the woman who volunteered and worked all day, dancing to the music and providing water to those in need, of the hallways and classrooms infused with life and hope and laughter as the Eagles staff members and players and coaches and cheerleaders and volunteers came together to open new doors and change, forever, the course of life for a community of children and families.