By: Dory LeBlanc
Last season, wide receiver Vincent Jackson made a huge impact on the field for the Bucs; this year, he's making an impact off the field in the Tampa Bay community.
On Veterans Day (November 11), the Pro Bowler launched the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation, a charity which works with military families, specifically those affected by a loved one deployed overseas.
Jackson has already teamed up with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and next month his foundation will be the beneficiary of Dodgeball For A Cause, a charity event hosted by the Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa Bay Times Forum and WDAE.
Monday morning, his employer opened their doors for Jackson and the JIAF to host a youth camp for children of military parents.
Supporting military families isn't just something Jackson picked out of a hat when he started his foundation, it's a part of who he is.
Born in Fort Polk, Louisiana, Jackson is the son of two military parents with a combined 25 years of active-duty service. Jackson learned the significance of hard work and self-discipline throughout his adolescence, which included time spent during his parents' service in Phoenix; Gräfenberg, Germany; and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Jackson is passionate about raising community awareness on the challenges that exist for developing healthy relationships between deployed U.S. service members and their children.
“You’re looking for that support, that structure there," Jackson said at One Buc Place. "Sometimes there’s emotional issues that go on, sometimes they want to backlash with their brothers and sisters. There’s different ways they show those emotions, so what we try to do is just give them some positive energy. Focus that energy on ‘Hey, you know what? We understand.’
"I tell them my story about my dad being gone at times and how to focus that energy with helping mom at home or being a good brother or sister with our siblings, helping out doing the trash, picking up behind the dog, those kinds of things mentally can get them to be like, ‘You know, I can do positive things with that energy,’ and get out that frustration you get from missing a parent. They tend to listen pretty good.”
The camp, which hosted dozens of children from nearby MacDill Air Force Base and other local military installations and was run by Jackson, Bucs staff members and a local youth sports organization, wasn't focused on football or sports; it was just about the children getting out and having a good time with a mentor who understands them and is trying to bring them some normalcy into their lives.
“This is just an outdoor fun camp," Jackson said. "One of those old summer camps that you go out you’re doing potato sack races, relays, hula hoop races, we were inside playing Duck, Duck, Goose, old school kids’ games and it’s perfect for this group. We’ve got kids ages 5-12 so they’re having fun. Their attention spans probably are only couple minutes anyway, so it’s perfect for us just to get some lighthearted games and get them active,”
“The NFL does so much with NFL Play 60 and getting kids outside, trying to do the whole health movement, so we’re talking to these kids not only about being good people, being good citizens, but make sure they’re eating right, listening to mom and dad, doing their homework, and of course getting outside and exercising and being healthy.
“So many kids are hooked up to that technology now-a-days that we just try to get outside and remind them about the good ol’ days of (what) just playing outdoors was like.”
This is the first year the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation has run the camp and the wideout hopes it will not be the last. For the time being, the foundation is focusing on children of military parents and providing an outlet for a fun environment, but in the future could expand to mainstream kids as well.
“This was our first run at this and again, there’s always room for football and add some sports to it, but right now, I like the way this is going," Jackson said. "Just keeping it military kids, military families involved, we probably will in the future open it up more of a public thing with kids outside of that, but right now, it’s just keeping it military; that’s what our focus is and thanks again to the Bucs for being great hosts, letting us use the facility today and the group out here running our camp has been awesome."
It wasn't only the campers who got something out of Monday's activities; Jackson was a full participant in making a memory that will last a long time for these children, including playing DJ during musical chairs and hula-hooping with a small girl who handed the 6'5" wideout a red hoop. All the while, the smile hardly left Jackson's face.
“They just want to have fun,”
To view the gallery from Monday's event, click the photo below:
* Info from the Bucs Communication Dept. was used in this article*