BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. –The Cities of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center are breaking down barriers and bringing recreation to their young community members.
The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee (MNSBHC) Legacy Fund, in partnership with the NFL, awarded Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth with a $90,000 grant to expand the organization's "Rec On the Go" (ROTG) program.
Tuesday's grant presentation marked a milestone, as the MNSBHC Legacy Fund reached the $1 million mark in funds donated to community projects across the state.
Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren, on behalf of the Wilf Family Ownership group and the entire Vikings organization, expressed gratitude to the many people in attendance at Zanewood Recreation Center.
"I just would like to welcome everyone for being here today and also for your support on this journey," Warren said. "One of the things that we promised when we put in our bid to host Super Bowl LII here in February is that we would host a great game, we would have a great week of events, but even bigger than that, over the course of a year, we would do things that were unique and that we could give back to the community.
"Any time you stand before a group and are able to say that we're crossing a major financial threshold today, it really is special," Warren continued. "The game will be special, the week of events will be special, the Twin Cities and the State of Minnesota will be on display – it will be a very special environment. But bigger than that, during this entire Super Bowl journey, many people in the community here will be impacted in a positive manner."
According to Paul Vang, Youth and Family Program Specialist for the City of Brooklyn Park, a large population of "The Brooklyns" youth are unable to access transportation to parks and recreation locations and also are in need of low-cost programming.
Rec on the Go helps to bridge these gaps.
ROTG is a free program for youth in underserved areas of the neighboring communities. Its mobile recreation vehicles transport sports equipment, activities, art programs and healthy food to scheduled locations.
"It's really breaking down a lot of barriers to building relationships in neighborhoods," said Vang, who likened ROTG to an ice cream truck. "A lot of times when we're out there, we see a lot of the kids run out and say, 'Hey, Rec on the Go is here!' So we've been kind of a symbol for fun, safe recreation."
The Legacy Fund grant will help the Alliance expand its program by purchasing a third vehicle to specifically focus on bringing activities – such as basketball and flag football – to more local teens.
"Before Rec on the Go was established, 65 percent of young people who are part of this program had never participated in recreational activity, said Rebecca Gilgen, Executive Director of Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth. "Our Cities have created an amazing program that is in high demand, and these funds allow us to continue to bring resources for physical activity and healthy nutrition to many more kids and teens throughout the Brooklyns."
As the Vikings hope to be the first team to host and play in its own Super Bowl, they have also teamed up with the MNSBHC on a unique approach to the Legacy Grant Program. Through its "52 Weeks of Giving" campaign, the committee has launched a year-long effort to make Super Bowl LII a statewide event, awarding 52 communities with grants that will help improve the health and wellness of young people in Minnesota.
NFL Senior Vice President of Events Peter O'Reilly said he's appreciated Minnesota's gumption from the get-go.
"A lot of our Super Bowls have kind of been multi-city, but really [here] you feel the state-wide support," O'Reilly said. "The support deserves the type of Legacy program that gets into each of these underserved communities and delivers a real impact around initiatives that you can measure right away."
O'Reilly also said that the involvement the Vikings have had directly with the MNSBHC and the Legacy Fund is outstanding. While the Vikings of course hope to play in Super Bowl LII, O'Reilly appreciates the team's understanding of the impact it can have on the State of Minnesota for an entire year leading up to the game.
O'Reilly emphasized that the Vikings already have a reputation of doing significant work in the community.
"That's part of their DNA, in terms of how they think about having an impact on the people who are so committed to them and so many huge Vikings fans," O'Reilly said. "It would be amazing, it would be a first, to have the home team hosting the Super Bowl. But regardless of that, it's about being all-in on the Legacy program, and the Vikings have been there from the very beginning."
A number of local youth attended the afternoon event, as did representatives from one of the MNSBHC sponsors, Boston Scientific, who all sported blue "52" jerseys.
Following the presentation, former Vikings linebacker and Director of Youth Football E.J. Henderson, with the help of Viktor the Viking, led participants through a gamut of football drills.
As Executive Vice President of Public Affairs & Stadium Development Lester Bagley looked on, he emphasized the significance of the Vikings helping the MNSBHC make a difference in the community.
"We're determined to make it a memorable Super Bowl experience for Vikings fans, Minnesota fans and people in the region," Bagley said. "It's outstanding to go over $1 million early – there's still more to come.
"It's fun to see […] the Vikings brand as part of a great program," Bagley added. "We're proud to be part of it, and we're looking forward to more events like this, a great season and hopefully a strong playoff run."