A Winning Team: NFL-Themed Event Raises Money For Autism, Rare Illnesses

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From left: Jay Fiedler, Debbie Levine, Daniel Jones, Joel Levine, Alex Tanney and Alec Ogletree (Photo by Mike Adams)

When Joel Levine spoke to the crowd of onlookers gathered at Engineers Country Club to raise money for the Family Center for Autism and the Ellie’s Army Foundation on Monday, Nov. 25, he told them that he figured the hardest job he would ever have was being the parent of a child with autism. As life went on, and his eldest child James grew up, he found that wasn’t the case.

“What I learned recently is that’s the second-hardest job,” Levine said. “The hardest job I’m ever going to have is being the parent of an adult with autism.”

The school system acts as a sort-of safety net for children with autism as they grow up, Levine said, a center of life where they can gather, make friends and spend time with people who know how to care for their needs. After graduation, however, those same support systems that support adolescents are taken away, leaving most without adequate means to support themselves or socialize.

That need is what the Monday Night Party at Engineers Country Club tries to muster the resources to help solve.

Jets running back Bilal Powell receives a commemorative poster (Photo by Mike Adams)

“We’re here to improve the lives of children with autism, to improve the lives of children with terminal illnesses,” Levine said. “Autism and cystic fibrosis are undefeated. We’re never going to be able to cure Jamie, but what we can do with the funds tonight is hope to improve other aspects of their life.”

In years past, money raised during the Monday Night Party has gone toward funding a number of quality-of-life improvements for people with autism, including the construction of a new Family Center for Autism group home in Saint James and a food truck for the Anderson Center for Autism that helps children staying at the center learn practical life skills.

Apart from raising money to help those with autism, the Monday Night Party also raised money for Ellie’s Army, a non-profit that helps children battling life-threatening illnesses like cystic fibrosis (CF) in memory of Ellie Levy, who passed away at 22 years old after battling CF. Former quarterback Jay Fiedler, a friend and client of Ellie’s father, NFL agent Brian Levy, serves as a board member for Ellie’s Army. Fiedler spoke about Ellie’s bright personality, and how the fight to cure rare illnesses like her’s generally don’t receive much support.

To help accomplish its goals, the football-themed Monday Night Party featured appearances from several current players on both the New York Jets and Giants.

“It’s a special night,” Jets running back Bilal Powell told the Roslyn News at the end of the evening. “It’s great just having guys come out on their day off, relaxing and coming off a hard day and just coming together for a special cause and bringing people together.”

Additionally, the event included a silent auction of signed NFL memorabilia from 16 teams, including signed Jets and Giants jerseys, cleats and, perhaps most notably, a vintage Cleveland Browns jersey signed by NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.

The event was abuzz with wide-eyed children ecstatic at seeing their favorite football players up close. Some of the players, like Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree, a cosponsor of the event along with Powell and backup quarterback Alex Tanney, even joined the kids in playing the NFL-themed video game Madden NFL 20.

“My son loves the Giants, so do I, but our two worlds come together when they’re doing good,” Shepherd Baum, owner of Summit Camp, a sleepaway camp for children with special needs, said at the event. “Seeing all these players out here to help raise money and support such noble causes is amazing for us.”

The night also saw New York State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller receive an award honoring her work championing causes for people with special needs. Miller, an old classmate of Levine’s, told the crowd about how her journey with her own special needs daughter Melanie inspired her to be a voice for special needs concerns throughout the state.

“We special needs parents excel at helping each other,” Miller said. “At some point you realize you aren’t doing what you’re doing for your own child. It becomes just as important to make things easier for other families. I never wanted another family to feel the isolation and the fear that I felt when Melanie was diagnosed.”

All total, the ninth annual edition of the Monday Night Party raised $150,000 for the Family Center for Autism and Ellie’s Army between the silent auction, donations, ticket sales and sponsorships, more than any previous year.

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