Rookie Club Brings Smiles to Patients

The Atlanta Falcons Rookie Club Presented by UnitedHealthcare spent their Tuesday taking a trip to the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite where they signed autographs and visited kids in their hospital rooms.

As the sun broke through the clouds early Tuesday morning, a new day dawned over Atlanta, bringing with it a glimmer of hope for patients and their families at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.

Eight members from the Atlanta Falcons Rookie Club, presented by UnitedHealthcare, took a few hours Tuesday afternoon and spent time with CHOA patients and their families. They teamed up with Project Sunshine, a non-profit organization that provides children and their families a change in the daily monotony of living with medical challenges, and hung out with children at a carnival-themed party.

Before the players arrived, the children, as well as their parents, were buzzing with excitement. Volunteers from Project Sunshine, were already helping the kids get their hands dirty in The Zone, an area of CHOA that allows patients to participate in arts and crafts, as well as play video games, during their stay at the hospital.

Once the players arrived, however, the excitement grew to that of a Falcons home game at the Georgia Dome. Children and their families greeted players with hugs, high-fives, and fist-bumps, while plenty of camera flashes captured the happy memory during what might have been an otherwise difficult time.

"You don't know how their day was going before you got here," said rookie practice squad cornerback Ricardo Allen.

Throughout the afternoon, the players moved all over. They got down on the same level of each child they talked to. They helped color "We're #1" foam hands and small plastic helmets, played the NFL Madden video game, and doled out plenty of autographs, making sure nobody was missed.

For the players, interacting with the children and putting a smile on their faces was the best part of their day.

"It feels good to go in and make these kids' day," rookie linebacker Tyler Starr said. "Whether it's a bum ankle or someone is sick, to see a smile on their face puts a smile on my face."

And the smiles were endless; from the children to the players to the parents and the staff, the day was already brighter than when it began.

Moments like these are priceless for parents. They get to watch as their child interacts with a professional athlete, and, even for just a little while, they forget about the stresses of being in the hospital with each smile and laugh that escapes their child's lips.

"It helps connect some of the dots between the world outside and here in the hospital," said Jennifer Avery, mom of a 10-year-old CHOA patient. "It makes life more real."

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