Friday night was one that a group of kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania will never forget. A night where they were treated to a back-to-school shopping spree for the essentials for the school year, but it was something more that will stand out even more.
Not only did they get to go shopping, but even more exciting they got to go shopping with receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who provided $500 gift cards for each of the 20 kids through The JuJu Foundation and a matching donation from Macy's, where the shopping spree took place.
The excitement level was at a fever pitch when he arrived, with the kids breaking into a chant of 'JuJu, JuJu,' as he walked into the room.
"With the JuJu Foundation, this is something that is near and dear to my heart," said Smith-Schuster. "It's all about giving back to the kids. I remember when I was younger, I always wanted to have a role model come back to our Boys & Girls Clubs, our school. Being able to give back with school stuff, whether it's clothes, toys or whatever it might be. Now that I am in that role, it's awesome. Giving back is what it's all about.
"I want to be a great role model for kids. Whether it's during sports, on the field, but off the field is where it really matters. Without the fan base, with the support they created for us, I wouldn't be where I am today."
The kids selected were all from the McKeesport and Duquesne area, a place where a boost like this goes a long way.
"It's a game changer for the youth and their families," said Scott Koskoski, vice president of advancement and philanthropy for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania. "It represents hope. It represents opportunity to not only provide for some essential items and needs, but it also represents an opportunity to forward JuJu's generosity. These youth can think about what it means to give, as well as what it means to receive. That's a key takeaway for us as we look to engage our youth in the spirit of generosity, the spirit of caring and about thinking about others as much as it is JuJu's generosity, allowing our youth to help fulfill some of their own needs."
At times it was hard to tell who was having more fun, the kids or Smith-Schuster. They collaborated on picking out clothes and shoes, with Smith-Schuster chiming in with key fashion tips.
It was truly a night to remember.
"Let's be honest. Who wouldn't want to spend a couple of hours with a player as dynamic and electrifying as Juju Smith Schuster?" said Koskoski, who was also thrilled the kids were able to enjoy dinner provided by Pizza Hut. "It's just a tremendous amount of fun for our youth to be able to go back to their community and say, guess who I got to see and meet. It's really neat because our youth get to interact with a celebrity, an athlete, a personality such as JuJu and think to themselves, I could do that too. I could be that too. A seed is planted in the minds and the hearts of these youth to say I'm special too. I matter too. I must matter because someone like JuJu is paying attention to me.
"It's incredibly valuable. It's incredibly fun. We're just delighted to take part in it. I know that for our youth, this will be something that they go to sleep tonight excited about. They'll be talking about it to their friends for such a long time to come.
"And when they see JuJu on television in a game, they get to point to No. 19, and say, 'that's my guy.'"