Ryan Kerrigan's Blitz for the Better Foundation supports children with special needs
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Autism Speaks estimates that one out of every 68 children has “an autism spectrum disorder.” Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has experienced it in his own family. One of his cousins was diagnosed with autism and he has seen the challenges it presents, not just to his cousin, but to the entire family.
“I’ve seen first-hand the trials that go into each day not only for him but for my aunt and uncle and his siblings,” Kerrigan said. “I see how tough life can be so I wanted to think of something [to make a difference].”
Now in his fourth year in the NFL, Kerrigan, a native of Muncie, Indiana, decided he wanted to do something to give back to people in the Washington, D.C. area who have embraced him as a member of their team. Kerrigan founded the Blitz for the Better Foundation, which targets children who are seriously ill, have special needs or are physically challenged, including those with autism.
In fact, Kerrigan himself has dealt with a disability of sorts. He has hearing loss in his left ear as the result of repeated ear infections he suffered when he was a child. However, it didn’t slow him down. Kerrigan not only played football growing up, but swam competitively and played basketball and baseball. But it was football where he found his future, with Washington making him their first-round draft pick in 2011 out of Purdue University. Although he was never impeded by his own condition, he knows that many others are not always as lucky.
“I’ve known a lot of other people throughout my life who’ve had special needs,” he said. “It’s definitely something I’m passionate about.”
One of the first places the foundation has allocated money toward is the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., which offers programs and care for every possible ailment affecting children. But care takes money and often other things have to go by the wayside.
Currently in development for the hospital is the program Kerrigan’s Korner, which is targeted toward children who are hospitalized long-term with serious illnesses or conditions. One enemy of anyone who is hospitalized is boredom. For children who are separated from their friends and their normal daily activities, it can be even more difficult. Kerrigan’s plan hopes not only to offset some of that boredom, but to create possibilities for learning and growth during their hospital stay. He described what Kerrigan’s Korner will specifically entail.
“[Each child] will have a little locker that will have an iPad and other forms of mental stimulus, which will keep them happy and learning something,” he said. “This will be a good way to keep their minds active if physically they can’t be.”
One of Kerrigan’s fundraisers is the Celebrity Waiter Night. Kerrigan and many of his teammates become the waiters at an event held at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in the D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia. This year’s function was held on September 15thand further upped the profile of Kerrigan’s work and the donations for the work he is doing.
Throughout, Kerrigan has been fully hands-on. While he oversees all decisions as well as the scope and trajectory of its programs, he partnered with Prolanthropy, a philanthropy company, which helps administrate the foundation’s logistics. In addition, Kerrigan’s father serves as treasurer, keeping an additional close eye on the distribution of funds.
Kerrigan takes personal pride from this new venture. His family, especially his aunt, uncle and cousins has been touched by Kerrigan’s efforts. “I think they’re pretty excited to see that I [started the foundation]. They know that we’re a very close family and that we know the difficulties that they face dealing with autism.”
He also sees how he’s contributing on a larger level and that has been extremely gratifying. “It humbles you to know that you’re having a good impact on the community. I’ve done numerous endeavors for teammates and to actually have my name on it means a lot.”