Steven Jackson Foundation and Rams Team with BAMSL to Host Holiday Party for 3,000 Kids

Posted Dec 21, 2012

St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson is accustomed to taking center stage at the Edward Jones Dome on Sundays. But this past Saturday, the nine-year veteran shared the spotlight with the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis (BAMSL) and other esteemed guests during the 20th annual Motion for Kids Holiday Party.

The event was originally named Project Angel Tree and began in 1992 as a series of smaller parties held around St. Louis in the basements of various churches and synagogues. BAMSL’s young lawyers division wanted to do something for children whose lives had been impacted by the judicial system – losing a father to prison, being taken away from a mother due to her harmful addiction and other difficult situations. The holiday effort was created to show these kids a more compassionate side of lawyers. The early parties were relatively modest. Cookies and punch were provided, as were gifts for the kids.

But in the confined space, only a small group of kids were able to enjoy the party at one time. Years ago, one of these parties was held at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. The basement of the building was lined wall-to-wall with over 100 kids, in addition to guardians and other volunteers. The wife of a Rams player happened to be in attendance and suggested BAMSL partner with the Rams to expand the effort by hosting the event at the Edward Jones Dome. With that little push, the wheels were set in motion for a lasting partnership between BAMSL and the Rams.

“It’s been a fantastic partnership with the Rams and we’re very appreciative of all the help they’ve offered over the years,” executive director of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis Zoe Linza said. “Sometimes I wonder what we would do without them because this has grown into such an intertwined relationship.”

The partnership, which officially began in 2001, has also spurred the growth of Motion for Kids. This year, Linza said the holiday party served 3,259 kids and was supported by over 500 volunteers on the day of the event.

“People will just randomly walk up to me on the day of the party to say thank you,” Linza said. “Numerous times. It’s just meant to be a day of joy. And you can see that on the children’s faces. It’s one day where they can run around and be kids and have a good time.”

In addition to hosting the event at the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams added a new element to the partnership three years ago.

The Rams approached Jackson and his foundation, the Steven Jackson Foundation, about co-hosting Motion for Kids with BAMSL. Jackson happily agreed. Since then, the Steven Jackson Foundation and 39 Wishes has helped the event to continue to grow and develop.

“When we approached Steven, we envisioned a partnership that could elevate Motion for Kids to new heights for kids in need,” said Molly Higgins, St. Louis Rams vice president of corporate communications/civic affairs. “What we could not have envisioned was the level of support and passion that Steven and his entire family, led by his sister Rhonda, would bring to the effort.  They have embraced it wholeheartedly and made it one of Steven’s signature efforts. His involvement has resulted in tremendous participation by his teammates and more holiday cheer for the kids in attendance.  It’s been an unbelievable partnership between BAMSL, the SJ39 Foundation and the Rams.”

On Saturday, the holiday party was kicked off with a breakfast for the volunteers provided by St. Louis Bread Company.  When the children finally arrived at the Edward Jones Dome, they were in awe and splendor with the plethora of activities available at their fingertips.  There was a book corner – where each child received a brand new book to keep, St. Louis Bread Company also donated cookies, icing, and candy—all the makings for a fun cookie decorating station—arts and crafts were at hand, as well as an interactive area with different fitness stations, live entertainment, in  addition to visits with Santa Claus, select Rams players, cheerleaders and Rampage.

Similar to game days, Jackson could be found all over the field. At one station, he signed autographs; at another he took holiday photos with the kids. Many of his teammates, including quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens and Austin Davis; running backs Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Terrance Ganaway and Chase Reynolds; wide receivers Austin Pettis and Chris Givens; tight end Cory Harkey; defensive end Robert Quinn; linebacker Rocky McIntosh and long snapper Jake McQuaide came out to support Jackson during the day. They signed autographs, posed for photos, participated in the interactive stations and contributed to the holiday cheer in many other ways.

Other teammates including linebackers James Laurinaitis, Josh Hull and Jo-Lonn Dunbar; defensive backs Cortland Finnegan, Craig Dahl and Rodney McLeod; wide receivers Brandon Gibson and Nick Johnson; defensive ends Chris Long and William Hayes; offensive linemen Rodger Saffold, Scott Wells and Rob Turner; tight ends Mike McNeill and Matt Mulligan; punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein also contributed to the holiday effort by “adopting kids” and purchasing gifts.

“A lot of my teammates came out and showed great support, not only through donations but by coming in and playing with the kids, taking pictures, giving autographs and just enjoying the moment,” Jackson said. “And I could never say thank you enough to those guys for helping out with this great cause. 39 Wishes and Motion for Kids has been awesome.”

Linza recognizes the positive impact Rams players have had on the event.

“For some kids, it’s huge to be able to share the field with Sam Bradford or Steven Jackson,” Linza said. “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them, so that’s added a new dimension.”

While the actual event took place on Saturday, the preparation for Motion for Kids began months in advance. According to Linza, planning the party is a year-round effort for BAMSL. Debriefing takes place in January and then the process begins anew. BAMSL has a series of fundraisers throughout the year to help raise money for the event. Their largest fundraiser is a trivia night held in the spring, followed by a washers tournament in the summer and a fun run in the fall. In total, Motion for Kids requires close to a $40,000 cash outlay even with the multitude of donations and discounts received by BAMSL for the party.

“We’ve tried to put a dollar amount on this party,” Linza said. “So if I had to pay for the full price of the Edward Jones Dome and all of the food and drink, this would probably be close to a $1 million party. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

But the largest undertaking is the most important of all during the holiday season: gift-giving. BAMSL partners with various groups and organizations that provide the names, ages and gift wishes of children who have been impacted by the justice system. Once that information is organized into a database, BAMSL calls upon its partners to make the wishes come true.

Participating organizations or individuals have the option to adopt a child for the holidays. This year, over 2,000 legal staff from many firms and other organizations adopted kids for the holidays. But the effort was not without some drama toward the end.

“We had something like 400 kids left on the Monday before the party,” Linza said. “But people come through. They’re just really good and willing to help.”

For their part, the Rams adopted over 200 kids as an organization. Players, coaches, front office members and staff participated in the program, ensuring that the kids had gifts to open for Christmas.

“We adopted more kids this year than we have in any other year we’ve participated,” St. Louis Rams community outreach and charitable donations manager Merritt McCarthy said. “Every kid deserves to have presents to open on Christmas morning and we were glad to help make that possible.”

To cap off the afternoon, Jackson spent time in the gift room, distributing the gifts to their rightful recipients. After providing the children so much throughout the day, it was only fitting that Jackson had more gifts to give.

“It’s kind of like Santa’s workshop back here,” Jackson said. “We give the presents to the kids and their families and you see the big smiles. A lot of times, the presents don’t even make it home. They tear them open right here.”

For others, the gifts will be put under the tree at home to ensure they have something to open on Christmas morning.

With help from the Rams, the Steven Jackson Foundation and 39 Wishes and their other sponsors, BAMSL has been able to spread holiday cheer to kids in the St. Louis area for the past 20 years. The Motion for Kids Holiday Party has become an annual ritual and one that kids and volunteers alike look forward to each year.

“All of our law firms – whether they’re a three-member law firm or a 300-member law firm – are very involved,” Linza said. “It’s a great opportunity for us. And for some people, coming to Motion for Kids is part of their Christmas, it’s become one of their traditions.”