When the Friday night lights are shining, the Newton High school football team gets its fair share of support from the community — so when the opportunity presented itself to return some of that support recently, it was pretty easy to get the Railers on the same page of the playbook.
Newton's Aiden Kendall was out trying to rally support in the preseason as part of the team's discount card fundraiser, when a chance encounter in his neighborhood presented a perfect service outlet for the Railers. One of the houses Kendall happened upon was that of a Grand Central volunteer who highlighted some of the assistance required at the Newton senior center.
"I really want to see us help more," Kendall said. "When I heard her say that they needed help, I jumped on the idea because we really need to get out there and help the city a lot more."
Kendall let his coach, Chris Jaax, know about the help the senior center was needing and he quickly got the ball rolling to get his team involved in some community service.
Turns out, the project was perfectly tailored to the NHS football team — allowing the squad to pitch in around the community and get a little workout at the same time, with the players doing some heavy lifting in order to facilitate the center's annual floor cleaning/waxing.
"We had to move all the furniture from one side of the building to the other side one weekend, and then the next weekend we had to do the other side."said Grand Central Director Leslie Runnalls. "They helped us a lot. We appreciated it very much. It was great."
Players helped with the cleaning efforts shortly into the first week of practices, moving all the chairs and other furniture at the senior center, though this latest endeavor was not an isolated incident — at least not under coach Jaax.
Jaax admitted that since taking over the program he has stressed the importance of service to his team, both in terms of recognizing that the community is bigger than them and taking some ownership in the community, and that commitment has not been lost on the players.
"I think it's a big deal," Jaax said. "I think the kids need to recognize that they're a part of this community, obviously, and this community is a big part of their support."
Senior Zach Garcia noted that culture of going out and helping in the community didn't really exist in his freshman year, but the Railers have really bought in under the leadership of Jaax. Fellow senior Brett Ashcraft pointed out other opportunities that have come up for the football team to help out, like assisting with a Big Brothers Big Sisters event on Sand Creek after last year's Saturday scrimmage, and he is glad to be a part of that community involvement.
"It's a great thing that Jaax is setting this stuff up for us; that just shows how good of a coach he is," Ashcraft said. "It is important, because if you want their support then you have to show them support."
Having that support be a two-way street helps make the community feel that much more connected — whether the Railers are helping the senior center or some other business downtown.
Runnalls admitted she has had the intent to call the high school about help with Grand Central projects, and the way things worked out recruiting the football team to help with the floor cleaning was reassuring about any future assistance.
"They were very polite and nice, and they were very willing to help. That was very encouraging," Runnalls said. "It's great to see kids doing good stuff."
Members of the NHS team could see that gratitude while helping and also recognized the impact of their actions in the greater community, which they are more than willing to support.
Community involvement is not limited to high schoolers on the football team, though, and given the experiences the players have been a part of they are all for anyone interested going out and finding ways to support Newton.
"Keep your eyes open. Opportunities are everywhere. You just have to receive them and be willing to do it," Kendall said. "It's a really great thing to be able to do. It helps us and them."
"People don't realize how much it puts a smile on other people's faces, how it makes them happy," Garcia said. "They're really grateful for it."