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Putting Down the Poms, the Autograph Pens… and Making a Difference
By Michael Vandermause
For BaltimoreStories.com

Autumn Harvest

For many, the fall brings to mind massive Thanksgiving dinners when families stuff their faces with plate after plate of food until they pass out in front of the TV. But for some, the holidays are just like every other season, struggling day to day to keep food on the table.

So to help the community, the Baltimore Ravens in conjunction with Operation Blessing held Autumn Harvest on Nov. 5 2005. Park Heights in Baltimore City was packed with hundreds of families lined up in hopes of receiving free groceries at the event.

Three of the Ravens Cheerleaders, Molly, Brian and Reggie, participated in Autumn Harvest, helping to stuff over 2 thousand grocery bags to give out to the poor, who patiently waited in lines all morning.

In addition to Molly S, Brian L and Reggie T, 21 Baltimore Ravens players as well as representatives from M&T Bank, UPS, the radio station Heaven 600 and Mayor O'Malley's office were there to lend a helping hand.

The grocery bags were stuffed with both perishable and non-perishable food items. They were giving out onions, potatoes, cereal, snacks, drinks and many other food items. Volunteers even helped to make little goodie bags for all the kids who were waiting in line as well.

Molly S.brought her two kids, Spencer and Wyatt, to help hand out the goody bags to the children.

“[My favorite part of today was] seeing my kids in action, helping, and being so happy doing it. It just feels so good. You lead by example,” Molly said. “They're even signing autographs.”

The lines of people filed past the metal fence where Molly and her kids handed out bag after bag of groceries to grateful Baltimore residents. No one pushed, complained or tried to take any more than they were given. “Thank you” and "God Bless You” were heard over and over again by each smiling person as they moved down the line. Molly said it was a great experience to have her kids come and “help out their neighbors who don't have as much as we do.”

Hurricane Katrina Relief

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, people all over the country chipped in any way they could to help. The members of the Ravens Cheerleading team also wanted to join in the effort. The Ravens decided to do something for the victims as an organization. The coaches approached the team with an idea about donating one entire week's pay to the Red Cross.

“The coaches came and approached us about doing it, because I think a lot of the squads around the NFL were doing stuff for the Saint's cheerleaders,” stunt team member Rob B. said. “So the coaches came to us with the option at a practice, and we had to make an all-or-nothing decision, and everyone agreed to it.”

So on the Ravens' first game of the season, on Sept. 11, the cheerleaders all cheered for free, with their day's wages going to support the relief effort in New Orleans.

“It was an overall team decision,” Chrissy said. “All of us wanted to donate money one way or another, whether just giving money or donating our pay. But we felt, as a team, it was more dramatic to donate money as a team.”

The coaches also donated their paychecks from the game. Stunt coach Napoleon explained that the coaches and the Ravens organization decided that donating their paychecks would be the easiest thing to do from an accounting standpoint since the entire Ravens organization was involved. Chrissy said she was grateful the football team involved the cheerleaders.

“There was a lot of money donated by the Ravens,” Chrissy said, “and the cheerleading team was able to participate in that.”

Habitat for Humanity

The Ravens Cheerleaders do several of these types of events and programs, especially around the holidays. But one of the more labor-intensive projects that the team is most proud of is their involvement with Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat is a nonprofit organization that helps low, income families obtain affordable homes. Potential homeowners are required to put in a certain amount of “sweat equity,” physical labor building their own house. The rest of the labor is done by volunteers, such as the Ravens Cheerleaders, who help put down floors, raise walls and landscape new homes.

Tina Simijoski says charity events like Habitat for Humanity are some of the most rewarding because she gets to see the results of the team's work right away.

“I think the Habitat for Humanity was very rewarding because it was physical labor, and you actually saw the results right then and there,” she said. With the other charities, it's always rewarding to know you're doing something for the community, but we're just showing up to be cheerleaders… signing autographs, motivating people on the cancer walk, and things like that. They're not as rewarding even though they might raise a lot more money, but we're just showing up as cheerleaders. It's an easy job for a great cause.”

The Ravens Cheerleaders have participated in the Habitat for Humanity program several times over the last few years. They plan on helping in the construction of yet another house in the Baltimore area this December 2005.

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