CitySquare, Heart of Dallas strives to be first line of defense against poverty

(DALLAS, TEX.) – Members from Illinois and Louisiana Tech manage to hold a practice, conduct a press conference, and give back to the City of Dallas in the same day.

Members of the media, and bowl committee gathered early Tuesday morning at the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium, located in Fair Park in Dallas. The press conference began with opening remarks by the Executive Director of Heart of Dallas Bowl, Brant Ringler. He was happy that the Bowl Season started, and that the players enjoyed their night at the American Airlines Center.

“This game is going to be honoring first responders. Want to make note of that. We will have several thousand first responders in the stand. We will be honoring all of them throughout the game as well,” Ringler said

While the conference was taking place, it was another busy day a different type of first responder at the City Square Opportunity Center, located at the southwest corner of 1610 Malcolm X street in Dallas. The CitySquare organization focuses on hunger, health, housing, and hope in the community, and has been preparing for this event since the beginning of the year.

A line that was a quarter mile long wrapped around the block, and onlookers watched, as members of the university of Illinois, Louisiana Tech football teams made it to the City Square Opportunity Center, a beautiful multi-acre facility, that includes a grocery store, wellness center, job placement training center, and housing assistance office. The building opened in November of this year, and they are putting the finishing touches on the building, as construction crews were busy working in some of the smaller areas of the site.

The Chief Development Officer of City Square, Shawn Wills welcomed all members of the Illini and Bulldog staff that was in attendance, and gave a quick introduction of the Center. Wills was all smiles, as she watched a year of planning be carried out to perfection. Wills has been with the organization for four years.

“This is great for the families, and I love to see the players here, giving back to the community,” Wills said.

Once the gate was open, families drove up to the pickup point, and received their pre-packaged 25 lbs. box of food, delivered by the Illini, Bulldogs, and members of the City Square Staff. By the end of the day, City Square was able to directly affect over 80 families, giving them enough food to make it through the week. It took dozens of volunteers hours to prepackage the boxes for the players, and football players delivered just about every single box in half the time, finishing in just under an hour and 15 minutes.

“It means a lot to us. We appreciate them (players) being here, and taking the time do do something of this magnitude, while being away from their families, and we just want to be gracious hosts. We just love it.”

Louisiana Tech Assistant Athletic Director, Ed Jackson, and Illinois Head Coach Tim Beckman were also in attendance to help with the charity event. Jackson,has been involved with the Tech staff for over 20 years, and also serves a the leader of Character Education.

Jackson’s motto is “Life after Football,” and he continually strives to teach the players how to be stewards of their community. He was proud of the guys that were in attendance that answered the call for humanity. This is nothing new for Bulldogs, as they also visit nursing homes, and schools to read to the kids. Jackson was not a stranger to the charity event, also hand delivering boxes to those in need.

“It’s important for me to see the kids going out to give, because us as a society, we’re always taking; But what are we doing to give?,” Jackson said. “This is a great opportunity to give back, and I know that there are people all over the world that don’t have anything to eat, so to give back is a privilege for us.”

Jackson also thought the opportunity to volunteer with members of the same team that they would be going up against on Friday would teach the guys some very valuable lessons in communication. One of Jackson’s kids, sophomore long snapper Darrell Travis, who is McKinney was elated that he had the opportunity to be playing at home in a bowl game, and was able to give back to his neighbors at the same time. Travis was adamant about volunteering, and believes that it is something everyone should do.

“It doesn’t matter if it is volunteering at the SPCA, volunteering at a clothes closet, or a food pantry,” Travis said. “The smiles that you see from everyone’s face makes everything better. It makes their day better, and it makes your day better. There’s no reason not to give back.”

The CEO of City Square, Larry James was also in attendance at the charity event, walking around, thanking every single person at the opportunity center for their attendance. He also lead the charge out in the neighborhood, when City Square staff and the respective teams went out in the neighborhood to to hand out pre packaged bags of toiletries to the homeless in the area.

“It is great tho have these players come out and experience a little bit of what we do everyday,” James said.

James has been at City Square for over 20 years. City Square was formerly known as Central Dallas Ministries, and changed its name in 2012. This is their second year as a beneficiary for the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. As a minister for more than 20 years, James knows that helping curb the poverty in Dallas is an every day battle, and his organization will be working through the holidays, as they approach their End of Giving campaign.

The goal of the campaign is to raise 1.2 million dollars by January 1, 2015, to assist families in the first quarter of 2015, which can be tough on families, especially after the holidays. City Square’s Director of Communications director Katherine Allen knows that with the generous support from the City of Dallas, and their strong network of churches, corporations, and other families that the goal is attainable

“Poverty in Dallas is an enormous challenge, and it is not because people are lazy, stupid, or don’t want to work,” James said. “It’s about opportunity, and that’s why we do everything we do. We are trying to create opportunities for people.”

James, as well as some of his staff will be in attendance for the Heart of Dallas Bowl, to enjoy the festivities, as well as to accept a check on behalf of the Heart of Dallas organization. James, who is a doctoral graduate from Tulane University, is a big Green Wave fan, and did not pick a favorite for the game, but does believe it will be a great matchup for the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium.

Louisiana Tech is full of vigor, and vitality, and I believe that they are going to be hard to beat, but I am impressed by what I’ve seen from the Illinois team,” James said. “It’s going to be fun, and I wouldn’t miss it. I am neutral, because I am for anyone who donates their time to City Square.”

To see more photos from the charity event, including photos from MediaDay, click here.

For more information about City Square, or the Heart of Dallas Organization, visit CitySquare.org, and theheartofdallas.org

Ticket prices for the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl range from $25 for general admission seating to $125 for reserved seats. Tickets can be purchased through the bowl’s web site at www.HeartofDallasBowl.com. Complimentary tickets are available to first responders and their families via signup at the bowls website.

 

The new 2014 Zaxby's Heart of  Dallas Bowl Trophy.  (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

The new 2014 Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl Trophy. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

ouisiana Tech head Coach Skip Holtz poses with the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl trophy. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Louisiana Tech head Coach Skip Holtz poses with the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl trophy. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Bulldog sophomore longsnapper Darrell Travis helps load a box of food onto a truck. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Bulldog sophomore long snapper Darrell Travis helps load a box of food onto a truck. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Bulldog sophomore punter Gerald Shouse greets passengers before loading food in a vehicle. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Bulldog sophomore punter Gerald Shouse greets passengers before loading food in a vehicle. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Louisiana Tech Assistant AD Ed Jackson talks with some of the citizens at CitySquare. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Louisiana Tech Assistant AD Ed Jackson talks with some of the citizens at CitySquare. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Members of the Illini football team gather for a photo. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Members of the Illini football team gather for a photo. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Illini head coach Tim Beckman meets with a family. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Illini head coach Tim Beckman meets with a family. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Bullgogs sophomore punter Logan McPherson (L), and freshman kicker Johnathan Barnes help deliver food to a family. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Bullgogs sophomore punter Logan McPherson (L), and freshman kicker Johnathan Barnes help deliver food to a family. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

A member of the Illinois Football Team delivers a  package to a family in need. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Illini freshman running back Marchie Murdock delivers a box of food. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Butkus would be proud. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)

Butkus would be proud. (Action Sports and News/Greg Collier)