It's early on this Wednesday morning, 7:45 to be exact, and Eagles President Don Smolenski is already in action as the organization sets up shop for a 25th Playground Build. Smolenski is in the heart of West Philadelphia setting up the scaffolding, taking out the paintbrushes, and organizing cans of paint. He climbs the steps to reach the mural at James Rhoads Elementary School and digs in. For the next seven hours or so, Smolenski paints by numbers, coloring in the giant "Rhoads" mural above the entrance to the school – not taking a break, not allowing his concentration to waver.
"At Lincoln Financial Field, the fans are there and they're cheering for us and it's just an incredible feeling every time," he said. "Today is one of our days as an organization to give back to a community, to be hands on, and to make something beautiful in a neighborhood that can benefit. This is concrete on concrete. We come in here, as an entire organization, and everybody is working together to give the school a fresh look and to add some energy.
"We're here to work and to make a difference."
Being the Philadelphia Eagles is not just about excellence on the field, it is also serving a community that has been so supportive and that, with its incredible diversity and expanse, has its needs. Jeffrey Lurie has always made outreach an important part of what the Eagles do, including now the commitment the Eagles Autism Foundation makes (more than $16 million in five years to take action in the autism world), the programs that promote youth learning and football activities, the End Philly Gun Violence campaign that is ongoing, and, of course, the Playground Build.
The Eagles spent all day Wednesday at James Rhoads Elementary School at 49th and Parrish Streets helping make the school and the kids and the neighborhood a safer place. The players, coaching staff, and football operations department arrived in the early afternoon to continue the work – when it's all finished, the school will have a fresh coat of paint around its exterior that is dazzling and bright, a new playground area with swings and a turf field on which to play, new shrubbery to brighten the exterior of the grounds, and repeated checkups from the Eagles to keep it looking good for years to come – and were enthusiastically greeted by the school children and the teachers.
After two years of COVID-interrupted activities, the Eagles Playground Build returned with a flourish in 2022.
"A few reasons why this day is really important to us," Lurie said. "A football team is a football team, we know how popular football is, but the culture we have always strived for is that we're there to service the community that we play in. Part of that is also being close to the community and schools like this. Kids deserve a safe place to play. It's a way to re-establish the culture in our organization – it's to serve. It's not just to play football. It's bigger than that. So, when the entire organization is devoted to one thing, building a playground for kids, it's more than just that. It sets the tone for an entire organization, and I've always felt it's one of the most important days of the year for our culture and also for the community that we're able to help."
For those new to the event, Wednesday was a grand experience. Head Coach Nick Sirianni had his entire roster and coaching staff on the buses following their Organized Team Activity day on the practice field and when they arrived the team separated to roll up their sleeves and put the work in. Mixing and mingling with the schoolchildren added the real element of making a difference for a community that appreciates every bit of the help.
"It's a great event and it doesn't surprise me with all the things the Eagles do to give back to the community," Sirianni said. "Top-notch organization led by Mr. Lurie and it's just a great thing to be able to give back to the community. To be able to give kids a safe place to play, a playground with cool art on the wall, I'm honored to be a part of it and I'm excited for the community to have this new playground."
At end of the day, when the players and coaches and staff members and SWOOP and the cheerleaders boarded the buses and returned to the NovaCare Complex, they took with them the image of the schoolchildren and the joy on their faces, in their eyes. The Philadelphia Eagles came to MY school to help me!
"The joy in their eyes, that they're special," Lurie said. "For the kids to feel that, that's where we want to be able to help. We want them to feel safe and they are just as special as everybody else."