By Mike Billoni
Congratulations Fred Jackson, co-captain of the Buffalo Bills, who received the prestigious 2015 Jefferson Foundation's award for the Greatest Public Service by an Athlete during an amazing evening Wednesday, March 4, at Gotham Hall in New York City.
The Jefferson Awards Foundation is the country's longest-standing and most prestigious organization dedicated to activating and celebrating public service. Through its program, the foundation trains and empowers individuals to serve and lead in their communities, amplifying their impact through its vast network of media partners, mentors and volunteers. Among its founders was the late Jacquelyn Kennedy, wife of the late President John F. Kennedy.
The Jefferson Awards Foundation is committed to tapping into the incredible capacity and spirit of young people. Through its Students In Action, Lead360 Challenge and the GlobeChanger programs, it supports, trains and empowers today's youth to become leaders, problem solvers, entrepreneurs and impactful global citizens.
We are fortunate to have two members of its board of directors from our area: Pamela Jacobs-Vogt of Buffalo, who is the mother of the Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs, and Kathleen Neville of Neville Consultants Inc. of Wilson, who nominated Jackson.
Pictured, from left: Mike and Debbie Billoni; Fred and Danielle Jackson; and Melissa and Ron Raccuia.
Three years ago, former Buffalo Sabre and National Hockey League Hall of Fame center Pat LaFontaine received this award in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, former Buffalo Bill and National Football League quarterback Jim Kelly was presented with the award.
Jackson, the veteran running back from Division III Coe College, which produced former Bills head coach Marv Levy (also a member of the NFL Hall of Fame), was selected because of his commitment to serve others off the field. The undrafted Jackson, who has been with the Bills since 2005, was the team's nominee this year for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
My wife, Debbie, and I attended the dinner celebration, because Fred and his wife, Danielle, are longtime supporters of the Food Bank of Western New York. As parents of four young children, they are touched by the number of children and infants we serve each month at our 326 member agencies in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties.
For the past two Thanksgivings, the Bills players and coaches donated a cash donation to the Food Bank to purchase turkeys and the trimmings for a holiday dinner for 600 local families in need. The Bills players come to the Food Bank to personally deliver the turkeys and boxes with all the trimmings to families who drive their cars to our warehouse. Fred and Danielle are always front and center with that promotion.
In addition to all he does for us, Fred also is quite involved with the United Way (as its local spokesperson), the Erie County Medical Center's breast cancer awareness program and its "BILLieve" campaign, the Program for Understanding Childhood Concussions and Stroke (PUCCS), the Roswell Park Cancer Institute's Carly's Club for pediatric patients and the NFL Play 60 program for youth fitness awareness. He also is an advocate for all Division III college football players.
Fred's work with children comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen what a great dad he is to his children. But it probably dates back to when he was a youth counselor for two years after graduating from Coe College with a sociology degree with a focus on child development.
"When you have an opportunity to work with kids and see how much you mean to them and you mentor them in life, and you get a chance to take that to another level. I would say my time as a youth counselor helped to mold me into the person I am today off the field more than anything," Jackson said. "Having that experience and that background is something that definitely keeps me motivated to do more for our community and any community that I am in."
During his eloquent remarks when he received the award in New York, Jackson especially thanked former Bills owner the late Ralph C. Wilson Jr.; Ralph's wife, Mary; Vice President of Community Relations Gretchen Geitter; and current Bills' owners Terry and Kim Pegula. He said, "I am extremely humbled, excited and proud of this award. As professional athletes, we have an obligation to get out and be in the community and do things for the community so they know that we appreciate all of their support. To get an award for it is icing on the cake."
Fred also spoke highly of his ultimate teammate, his beautiful wife, Danielle, and his mentor and agent, Ron Raccuia, founder of AdPro Sports and a Canisius High School and Canisius College graduate.
"I accept this award on behalf of a lot of people in my life who have helped to mold me into the player off the field that people respect and love," Fred said.
You can be assured when his Bills teammates begin reporting to Ralph Wilson Stadium this spring to begin their workouts under new coach Rex Ryan, Freddie will tell them what he learned when he was in New York accepting this award. Everywhere he turned, New York football fans praised the Pegula's hiring of their beloved coach Ryan, the recent back-to-back trades to strengthen the Bills offense and the outspoken Jets' fans bold prediction the Bills will make the playoffs this season.
Freddy thanked them for the compliment and just smiled.
A trip to the playoffs and the opportunity to participate in "The Big Dance" would be a dream come true for this professional athlete who is living a dream with the Buffalo Bills.
Congratulations, again, Freddy.
Mike Billoni, a former award-winning sports writer for the Tonawanda News, Buffalo Courier-Express and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, also is the former vice president/general manager of the Buffalo Bisons under Bob and Mindy Rich. He now serves as the public and community relations director at the Food Bank of WNY. He is a freelance writer for Niagara Frontier Publications. Billoni can be reached at [email protected].
He and his wife, Debbie, reside on Grand Island.