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NFL awards local nonprofit for inspiring change

Mark Parker



Social workers with the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services' (JFCS) Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) program take notes in the field. Photos provided.

National Football League officials selected a Clearwater-based nonprofit as one of only five recipients to receive funding and national recognition, for its innovative partnership with the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) and its Community Action and Life Liaison (CALL) program with the SPPD will receive over $200,000 and priceless awareness from the NFL and its athletes through the Inspire Change initiative. The league’s Social Justice Working Group – comprised of five current and former players and five team owners – chose the local organization from more than 1.8 million registered nonprofits for uplifting the community through social justice.

Dr. Sandra Braham, CEO of Gulf Coast JFCS, told the Catalyst she believes the recognition from the global conglomerate will help her organization accomplish that goal. In addition to the initial $200,000 grant, the benefits for the five recipients are immense.

“It’s like winning the lottery,” said Braham. “You go out there, you do the right thing, you try to hire the best people and you’re trying to find funding. And then one day, this miracle drops out of the sky.”

NFL officials made the formal announcement and began Inspire Change gameday activations Thursday. In-stadium elements include endzone messaging, goalpost and sideline banners and adorning players and coaches with Inspire Change apparel.

An NFL player wears Boys and Girls Club cleats as part of the Inspire Change Initiative. Photo: Facebook.

Video content on jumbotrons and broadcasts will highlight social justice efforts by grant recipients, players and clubs. Those PSAs will also air on the NFL Network, and the league’s social media channels.

Braham called that a “huge opportunity” to share JFCS’ and CALL’s story. Additionally, the five recipients will share all proceeds from Inspire Change-branded headwear.

Unlike other programs, she said the initiative provides a compassionate civilian response to nonviolent and noncriminal 911 calls and officer referrals without any police presence. In August, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway told city council members the Florida Police Chiefs Association awarded the SPPD for CALL’s effectiveness.

Braham relayed that social workers have conducted nearly 8,000 responses through CALL’s pilot and first full year. About 70%, she added, were related to behavior and mental health issues.

She expressed her excitement for Inspire Change – which hopes to increase police-community relations by supporting organizations that provide co-responder and intervention services.

“We need a different way,” stressed Braham. “We need to radically innovate how we’re approaching policing, mental health and community social change across the country.”

The CALL program has significantly reduced the number of people forced into mental health institutions, imprisoned or worse, said Braham. It also provides short-term housing assistance, gas for job interviews and “anything we can help with.”

She noted researchers with USF St. Petersburg, through Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg funding, are studying best practices for the model. Braham said national implementation is a goal now bolstered by the NFL’s partnership.

She said being one of only five recipients means that people recognize the innovative program’s value, which could extend outside U.S. borders.

“Chief Holloway has been communicating about this initiative internationally,” said Braham. “And I think there’s an even bigger opportunity, with the NFL’s presence, to share this model across the world.”

Dr. Sandra Braham, CEO of Gulf Coast JCFS, believes the NFL’s recognition could help the CALL program serve as a national or international model.

The influx in funding, Braham explained, will support hiring another mental health therapist and short-term housing for homeless families. She reiterated the program is not for criminals but for people experiencing a crisis.

Despite helping over 37,000 families of all beliefs across Florida, Braham relayed that because JFCS was established on Jewish values, people think belonging to that ethnoreligious group is a prerequisite to receiving services.

“When in fact, probably less than 5% of the people we serve are Jewish,” she added. “And so, I think, this is a huge opportunity to show who we are.”

Braham expressed her “extreme” hopefulness that the NFL’s awareness efforts will lead to more donations and grants.

Braham noted some initial fear and concerns in the community and among donors when the JFCS launched the CALL pilot in January 2021. She reminded them that the organization already knocked on doors unannounced to visit children in foster care without knowing what was on the other side.

She explained that 911 operators screen calls, and social workers feel safe and secure.

Sports, especially the NFL, encompass fans across the political spectrum, said Braham. She added that the league is uniquely positioned to overcome civic barriers.

“I think the NFL and Inspired Change is doing just that,” said Braham. “And I think they can tell stories like no one else.”

In a statement following Thursday’s announcement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he is proud of the work done through the initiative, now in its second year.

“Every single day, we are committed to working with our clubs, players and social justice partners to build a more equitable and just world,” said Goodell. “It is up to all of us to inspire change.”

For more information and to view the other recipients, visit the website here.

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