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Hudson -- Members of the Hudson High School Explorer's football team exchanged their game faces for warm holiday smiles Dec. 27 when they hit the road to help make the holidays a bit brighter for members of the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland.
About 30 football players, family members and friends visited the Broadway Club Dec. 27 taking treats, games and inflatables, and a photo booth for a "holiday games day," according to Marylee Maendler, who helped organize the event. Maendler is a parent of a 10th-grade football player.
"The event exceeded everyone's expectations as attendance was high," she said.
About 120 kids from the club took part in the event, which was a day after a severe snow storm, according to Maendler.
"Since most kids walk to the club, we had no idea how this would affect their ability to get there," she said.
Organizers collected cash donations to rent the games and attractions, Maendler said.
"We set up three main areas, and volunteers spread out all over the club to interact with as many kids as possible," Maendler said Dec. 30.
The gym was filled with inflatables for an obstacle course. Children made crafts using more than 140 blanket kits donated by JoAnn Fabrics, and a photo booth was available for unlimited free pictures.
"We were able to help kids make their blankets that they could take home," Maendler said.
The photo booth area had accessories for the kids to dress up in, such as "silly hats" and sunglasses, for pictures with friends and family.
"The kids we engaged with were amazing and I believe we made a difference that day," Maendler said. " We ended the day by handing out 200 gourmet cupcakes from Main Street Cupcakes. It was an incredibly rewarding day."
Sarah Forrer, who co-owns Main Street Cupcakes with her sister, Kimberly Martin, said her company was "happy to have the opportunity to donate" to the game day.
Maendler got the idea for a game day after visiting the club with her company, 3M.
"We got to know the director, and I just love what they do there," Maendler said. "We found a date on the calender, sent out an email and asked for volunteers."
The football coach arranged for a bus to take the group from Hudson to the club, Maendler said.
Maendler also got an assist from her husband, Brad, who is on of the football coaches, her son, Trent, a 10th-grader and football player, and daughter, Mia, an eighth-grader.
" I was a little nervous about the event and didn't know what to expect," Trent said. "But after about 30 minutes in, we were able to connect with a bunch of the kids and started having fun with them."
The event was "a great experience to be able to give back by spending time with these kids," Trent said.
"We had a great day and I hope we do this again next year ," Trent added.
Several families joined together to lend a hand with the event, Maendler said.
"Yes, it started as a football sponsored event, but I got so many requests for siblings that we opened it up so that kids and siblings could volunteer together," Maendler said.
The parental volunteers were kept to a minimum so the kids could be "involved as much as possible," Maendler said.
"And since Ron Wright, the head football coach, got us a school bus to take us to and from the event, it really allowed us to go as a team and share the experience together," she added.
"Everyone was doing something, whether racing one of the kids or each other in the gym, playing basketball, making a blanket or eating popcorn standing in line with the kids to take pictures," Maendler said. "The kids had a blast and it was a great day after being cooped up with the snow storm the prior day."
About 40 families and businesses helped make the event possible.
"I would like to make this an annual event so that every year kids and families can get a taste of what it is like to give back to our neighboring communities," Maendler said. "Our kids only have the opportunity to interact with inner city kids on the field in their sport.
"There were so many cool moments where I saw our players or their siblings holding hands with many of the younger kids that were wanting to race them or pull them into the craft room or take a picture. I think if you asked any one of the kids or parents that volunteered, they would say that the day was just as rewarding -- if not more so -- for us as it was for them,"
Maendler said boys and girls clubs "are always looking for volunteers and donations."
"There are many ways to give back and volunteer," she said. " I just think that anything we can do to reach out to kids in need ... that's a gift that keeps on giving."
To volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland call 216-883-2106 or visit www.clevekids.org