When Jeffrey Lurie became the Chairman and CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles more than 25 years ago, he turned his passion into purpose, and eventually, the Eagles Autism Foundation was born.
The Eagles Autism Foundation's premier fundraising event, the Eagles Autism Challenge presented by Lincoln Financial Group, took on a life of its own five years ago. As thousands descended onto Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday morning to ride, run, and walk, the Eagles Autism Challenge surpassed $16 million in fundraising since 2018.
"I couldn't be prouder of our organization embracing this, weaving it into the culture and the fabric of who we are," said Ryan Hammond, Executive Director of the Eagles Autism Foundation. "These families and our partners who come out, support us, and are side by side, it really is a united front."
This cause unites the City of Philadelphia as a whole. However, Jordan Mailata is not surprised.
"I expect nothing less, honestly. This is Philly," said the standout left tackle who grew up in Australia but has now made Philadelphia his home.
Championed by Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles Autism Challenge sets out to fund innovative research, drive scientific breakthroughs, and provide critical resources to create a major shift from awareness to action. One hundred percent of participant-raised funds from the team's signature charity event are invested into the autism research and care community, with more than $16 million raised in its five years.
Former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese echoed Mailata's sentiments, "The amount of money that's been raised over the last five years, I'm not surprised by that. Once the Eagles get behind something, this city will get behind it."
As the Eagles have become local, national, and global leaders in turning autism awareness into action, they believe it's just the start.
"I think we're the only sports team that really focuses on autism and we show it in every televised event, every football game right in the end zone," Lurie said. "You're not just seeing Philadelphia Eagles. You're seeing Eagles Autism Foundation, and that resonates."
What was once a one-day event has transformed into a 365-day commitment.
"Everyone lives it year-round," Lurie commented. "We listen all the time – from the Sensory Room at Lincoln Financial Field to every possible detail that can make the life of an autistic individual or their family a little more comfortable, a little more anxiety-free. We really try to focus on the cutting-edge programs."
2022 was a record-setting year for the Eagles Autism Challenge. The fifth annual event raised $4.1 million and counting from 17,164 donations. One hundred percent of the funds raised directly serve ground-breaking research and community grants.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts, who was on hand along with dozens of teammates and coaches, said, "These are the same passionate fans that are supporting us through thick and thin. To see them supporting a great cause like this and bringing awareness to autism is something everybody should be smiling about."
Center Jason Kelce, the Eagles' nominee for the 2021 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his commitment to the community, is proud to see the growth of the Eagles Autism Challenge: "To look back and realize that we've all shared and had our part in raising $16 million, it will go a long way. It's really cool to be a part of a team and an organization that is dedicated to giving back."
"It's been like scaffolding, and we just continue to build," Hammond said. "And we are not done yet."
Amongst the backdrop of a dedicated sports team, an invigorating fan base, and a loyal city, Jeffrey Lurie is changing the game for the autism community and beyond.