JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars took time away from their off day Tuesday evening to give back to children and their families staying at the Ronald McDonald House.
Quarterback Blake Bortles and the entire rookie class participated, playing basketball with kids in the courtyard, signing autographs and serving dinner in the kitchen, while taking the kids' minds off their medical battles for a couple of hours.
"It is awesome to be able to get out here and hang out with these kids and do anything you can to take their mind away from whatever is going on in their life," Bortles said while visiting with kids in the playground.
"Hopefully you have a huge impact on these kids' lives, but if not then give them a good day, something to look forward to have fun doing."
The Ronald McDonald House provides support and temporary lodging for families while their sick or injured children receive medical care at Jacksonville area hospitals. The 30-bedroom house allows families to interact with each other during a trying time.
Ronald McDonald House director Diane Boyle said that visits and contributions such as the Jaguars' visit helps families in the most difficult time of their lives.
"These are families in crisis that have come to stay with us… the days are long and their stays are long," Boyle said. "And to have something like this happen tonight when the Jaguars come to the house, they've been excited all day long, everyone's thrilled.
"The families have been handed a set of circumstances, a difficult diagnosis, and they're facing a very difficult time. Being able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House and not have to worry about your lodging, or your meals or your transportation and being inside that community of care and compassion and going through this experience with other families who are sharing that experience with you is something very special."
Wide receiver Marqise Lee said he enjoyed giving kids something he did not get to experience much when he was their age.
"This is something I wanted as a kid, to be around a lot of people and I didn't have the opportunity," Lee said. "They go through this process: testing, going here and doing that, being here at a certain time, being there at a certain time, everything being so scheduled. So just having the ability to come out and see athletes and break the schedule to come out and smile, that's just sweet."
Florida Blue Chairman and CEO Pat Geraghty, a Jaguars partner, also partners with the Ronald McDonald House on community events, and said the three organizations working together is a natural fit.
"The Jaguars are giving of their time to be here, and we, Florida Blue, love our partnership with the Jaguars and with Ronald McDonald House," Geraghty said. "This brings together a great group of partners and really celebrates the families. They're going through challenging times obviously, and this lets them take their mind off it for a little while and really enjoy their family."
Bortles added that the message Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley sends to the team comes true during events like Tuesday's.
"Gus talks about connecting to the following and all that, but this is on a whole other level when you can make a kid smile and brighten their day," Bortles said.
For more information on the Ronald McDonald House, visit www.rmhjax.org.