Family is paramount for Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie.
He has referenced the Eagles family in public remarks time after time again during his 27 years leading the organization. Family also inspired what will be one of his lasting legacies.
Lurie's brother has autism. Lurie's family is certainly not alone, as one in 54 families has someone who is on the spectrum. Lurie decided to leverage the power of the Philadelphia Eagles brand as a force for change in the autism community. But, as Eagles Autism Foundation Executive Director Ryan Hammond explains, what started as driving funds and raising with goals of millions of dollars has become woven into the fabric of who the Eagles are every single day.
Saturday was a momentous occasion at Lincoln Financial Field as the fourth annual Eagles Autism Challenge, presented by Lincoln Financial Group, was a reunion and a triumph. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 event to be held virtually, over 1,800 people participated in the ride, run, or walk event. Afterward, everyone celebrated together with music, food, and sensory-friendly activities. Eagles coaches and players were on hand to offer pep talks before the events and show their support, including All-Pro center Jason Kelce, who raised $50,000 as a guest bartender in Sea Isle, New Jersey, over the summer only to match that donation with his wife, Kylie.
It was a powerful showing by the Eagles family and the autism community. It was Lurie's vision come to life.
"Our biggest strength is bringing people together to do incredible things," Lurie told the audience at Friday night's Kickoff Event.
The Eagles Autism Challenge, the signature fundraising event for the Eagles Autism Foundation, has raised more than $2.5 million and counting in 2021 and nearly $12 million in four years. Participants will still be able to fundraise through Thursday, September 30. One hundred percent of participant-raised funds from the Eagles Autism Challenge benefit institutions that specialize in world-class autism research and care.
Saturday was also a moment to reflect on the incredible breakthroughs since 2018. The mission at the beginning was to bring awareness to the developmental disorder and provide a voice for the families in search of ways to navigate the peaks and valleys that come with autism. In just four years, the mission now is to deliver tangible effects for the autism community.
The Eagles Autism Foundation has funded 26 research projects and 17 community grants to date, but the pandemic forced the organization to pivot and find ways to keep the autism community together and meet them where they are.
The foundation funded a program that provided tele-intervention services and tele-assessments to ensure children could continue to receive therapies. Recognizing the challenges that vaccination clinics could provide, Lincoln Financial Field hosted a sensory-friendly event that distributed vaccines to over 1,000 people on the spectrum and their caretakers in March. The annual Huddle Up for Autism event, a fun day specifically designed for families with a child on the autism spectrum, was reimagined and transformed into a one-of-a-kind drive-thru experience that raised money for the Center for Autism Research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The Eagles Autism Foundation provided online resources and activities, including the hit YouTube series Sensory Saturdays with Max, to help families dealing with the isolation during the pandemic.
The Eagles Autism Challenge served as a powerful reminder that transformational change is indeed taking place. And as Lurie addressed the thousands at Lincoln Financial Field following the completion of the events Saturday, it was hard not to notice that the Eagles and the autism community – one big family – are blazing the trail ahead.