Imagine that you're sitting in the lounge area of a nice restaurant in Buckhead. Through the windows to the patio, you see Falcons players congregating and putting on aprons, preparing to serve as celebrity waiters. There's Sean Weatherspoon, the host of the event, and there's Thomas DeCoud, in his signature beanie. Matt Ryan is chatting with Tony Gonzalez. The rookie undrafted free agent linebackers, Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow, are sticking together while wide receiver Harry Douglas circulates, talking to everyone. Sound surreal? It was.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon's SPOONful of Hope foundation hosted a fundraising event last night at Ocean Prime in Buckhead, and I was honored to cover it for The Falcoholic. The event was beautifully organized, and featured Falcons players serving as celebrity waiters, live and silent auctions, a wonderful dinner and drinks, and many opportunities to interact with Falcons players in person.
The evening began with a cocktail hour in the lounge, where all of the silent auction and live auction items were on display. If you're unfamiliar with the difference, a silent auction will feature the auction items with bid sheets for each item, and bidders just write down their bid on the sheet for that item. The silent auction at the SPOONful of Hope event had some wonderful auction items, including jerseys and helmets autographed by Falcons players, a baseball bat signed by Chipper Jones, and even a signed Clay Matthews Fathead. There were also non-pro sports items, like an iPad, watches, a wine tasting, and a trip that guests could bid to win.
Live auctions generally feature the bigger ticket items, and they were auctioned off during the event. Prizes included a dinner with Spoon and his girlfriend Christine West, a framed photo of the highest bidder with Spoon and other Falcons players that will be hung on Ocean Prime's Wall of Fame, vacations, and more. All of the proceeds from the auctions will benefit the good work of SPOONful of Hope.
During the cocktail hour, players mingled with attendees, taking photos and signing autographs, and a few players even jumped behind the ball to serve drinks. Thomas DeCoud and Harry Douglas, two of the more outgoing guys on the team, were naturals behind the bar, and Stephen Nicholas poured me a glass of wine with an expert's touch.
Wes Durham, the Voice of the Falcons, served as the M.C. for the evening, and he introduced all of the players in attendance. Weatherspoon was joined by fellow linebackers Stephen Nicholas, Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow, and new linebacker Thomas Howard as celebrity waiters. Defensive linemen Jonathan Massaquoi, Travian Robertson and Corey Peters--or, Corey "Jellybean" Peters, according to Wes Durham--were all there to help. Offensive linemen Lamar Holmes, Sam Baker and Justin Blalock were in attendance, as were receivers Drew Davis and Harry Douglas, and running backs Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers. Last but certainly not least, punter Matt Bosher was in attendance to lend his support as a celebrity waiter. Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez and Steven Jackson were all there for the cocktail hour to support Spoon's efforts, although they had to leave prior to the dinner because of previous obligations.
Weatherspoon spoke during the event about what drove him to create SPOONful of Hope, and the purpose of the foundation. SPOONful of Hope strives to provide low-income and inner city youth with opportunities and resources to meet their full potential. While the Falcons, as a team, give back to the community selflessly and consistently, it was Spoon's very stable upbringing in a two-parent home, and the way his experiences contrasted with some of his high school teammates' experiences, that opened Spoon's eyes to an area in which he could use his time, talents and funds to make a difference for others.
Spoon noticed that his teammates would seek out Spoon's mother, Elwanda, a schoolteacher, to talk to her, and Spoon eventually realized that his teammates and friends were looking for support and encouragement that they were not getting in their own homes for various reasons. Because of that, Weatherspoon is not only grateful to his family for their unwavering support, but he is also compelled to give back to benefit others.
Weatherspoon created SPOONful of Hope in 2011, and in the beginning, he was funding it primarily on his own. Recently, Spoon's agent, Ryan Williams, got SPOONful of Hope connected to Prolanthropy, an organization that provides philanthropy management services to professional athletes. Many pro players want to give back to others through creating a foundation, but obtaining 501(c)(3) tax exempt status and planning fundraising activities and administrating the business end of a foundation is a huge undertaking. Prolanthropy is an interesting organization, because they fill in those gaps for professional athletes, making it easier for those athletes to give back to their communities.
Next up for Sean Weatherspoon and SPOONful of Hope is an initiative to treat 15 Atlanta families in need to a fun day together, as well as ensure that those families have the food they need to enjoy a nice Thanksgiving holiday. SPOONfeed a family will take place on November 25th, and attendees at last night's event had the opportunity to contribute toward this effort.
SPOONful of Hope's other initiatives are primarily education-based. Tackling the Text is a literacy program which engages families, schools and communities in fostering literacy engagement for students. One facet of this program is providing 30,000 books to elementary schools in and around Atlanta with at-risk students, providing those students access to books that will engage them.
Hope in a Backpack provides students in need with the resources and supplies they need to be successful for the school year. The program provides 300 students with backpacks, school supplies for the coming year, and clothing and shoes for each child.
Operation Second Half also addresses the school necessities for children in need, but while many back-to-school initiatives take place in the late summer, before the start of the school year, Operation Second Half provides middle school students with the resources they need to finish the second half of the school year. Families of the middle school students who participate are given a store gift card that they can use for school supplies, winter coats and other needed items for the second half of the school year.
I spoke with punter Matt Bosher during the event about what it's like to be a Falcon, and what compels these players to go above and beyond with community service initiatives. The team, of course, has organized service opportunities that players participate in, such as the Hometown Huddle. The Falcons had 100% participation in this year's Hometown Huddle, and were the only team to do so. What guys like Sean Weatherspoon, and his teammates who came out to support SPOONful of Hope's efforts, are doing is well above and beyond any kind of league or team mandate for community service, and yet they do it willingly. Bosher said, and it's not surprising, that the Falcons live up to the example and high standard set by owner Arthur Blank, and the entire organization at every level makes giving back a top priority.
On the field, it has been a rocky season. There's no way around it. Off the field, though, there are many reasons to be proud of these Atlanta Falcons. Sean Weatherspoon's efforts with SPOONful of Hope is certainly one of them.
For more information on Sean Weatherspoon and the good he is doing off the field, as well as information on how you can volunteer or contribute to these efforts, please visit the SPOONful of Hope website. You can also like SPOONful of Hope on Facebook, and follow the foundation on Twitter.