View images from Vikings LB Chad Greenway's TendHER Heart Event, which hosted over 200 women who are guardians of chronically or critically ill children.
MINNEAPOLIS – Preparing to enter his 11th season with the Vikings, linebacker Chad Greenway is used to being in the spotlight. This Sunday, however, wasn't about him – and that's exactly how he wanted it.
"Being our sixth annual brunch, this is built around the trust of these mothers," Greenway said. "Obviously they're giving up a full morning to come visit us, to come see us. This brunch means a lot more than the great food [and environment] – it's more than that. It's about the sorority of women who can only truly understand each other's struggle. That's what this TendHER Heart is all about. We've enjoyed this over the past six years. Every year it's grown, and it's just an amazing group of women."
Chad and his wife Jenni hosted more than 200 women for their sixth annual TendHER Heart Luncheon, held this year at WINDOWS on Minnesota on the 50th floor of the IDS Tower. All were mothers or guardians of chronically or critically ill children, and it was a morning for both tears and laughter for all who attended.
"We belong to a club that we didn't ask to be a part of, but we certainly do need each other," one attendee said to the group. "And we're proud to be a part of it."
The morning kicked off with a spa session that offered access to hair stylists, makeup artists and nail technicians.
"A lot of these mothers don't have a minute to themselves," Chad said. "We wanted to create a time for them to come and be pampered, be taken care of."
All of the women were served a brunch, and Chad spent time visiting each and every table, re-connecting with returning attendees, welcoming first-timers and taking photos with the guests. An open-microphone time was provided, during which anyone was welcome to share her story, encourage others or – in some cases – offer some comic relief.
Many of the women already knew each other from past events or multiple overlapping hospital stays with their children, and the atmosphere resembled a bustling family reunion.
Michelle Knode, of Forest Lake, Minnesota, was attending her fifth TendHER Heart event. Her 17-year-old son, Braeden, was born with spina bifida hydrocephalus and faces daily challenges as a result of the condition.
"He's had 62 surgeries," Michelle said of Braeden. "And number 63 is coming up."
Michelle said she's been able to connect with Chad and Jenni over the years and appreciates their down-to-earth personalities and overwhelming generosity.
"It's been a huge blessing to have that one thing a year to look forward to, to go and hang out with everyone and hear their stories," Michelle said. "We don't necessarily want to go up there and share [in the microphone], but it's so nice to hear what other people are going through [and to know] that you're not alone. You see other moms at the hospital, but it's not the same as coming to a place where you're all sitting and talking with each other."
Michelle and her family attended Vikings training camp three years ago on Braeden's birthday, and Chad recognized them immediately. He invited Braeden and his family onto the sideline and wanted to see how he was doing.
"They're just so genuine," Michelle said. "It means a lot that you have these people who don't have to do this, but really they want to be here and take the time."
The idea for TendHER Heart started when Chad and Jenni visited local children's hospitals and saw so many mothers who spent days, weeks and months out of the year with very ill children. Jenni said creating the TendHER Heart event was a natural response.
"You go into a hospital and you see all these mothers – not that the dads aren't there, but usually they have to work," Jenni said. "You see these moms that sacrifice so much. You see that, and you think, 'We have to do something for them.' "
Jenni wrapped up Sunday's luncheon by presenting the guests with gift bags. Among the items were a Vikings travel mug, Nike socks, a bracelet and a custom workout plan that Jenni created specifically for mothers who are limited on both time and physical space.
Chad and Jenni expressed their gratitude to all the women for making the event such a success and invited them to stay in touch and come again next year. As guests filed out, it was clear a weight had been lifted from their shoulders for at least a few hours.
"This room is the epitome of hope," one mother said.