NFL star Brad Smith helps two students with their math assignment during a surprise visit to Shwab Elementary for The Bridge Ministry’s “Bridge to Kids” program. Photo by Earl Flippen, Jr.

By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — It was no ordinary Friday for students at two local elementary schools.

Current and former NFL stars surprised the children of Napier and Shwab elementary schools, handing out special backpacks of nonperishable foods and spending time talking to them—a unique experience the kids will remember for the rest of their lives.

The NFL partnered with The Bridge Ministry for its Bridge to Kids program to deliver the bags. The ministry provides food every week to children in partner schools that might otherwise go hungry, serving about 3300 students last year alone, said Bridge Ministry’s Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ranson.

 “Today has just been phenomenal,” said Dr. Cheryl Bowman, assistant principal at Shwab Elementary. “Our students have had the opportunity to meet folks that in their lifetime, they will never have an opportunity to meet again. Then, in addition, The Bridge Ministry and what they do for our babies every week … We’re just overjoyed with us being the people that are selected to be blessed by today’s event, and just The Bridge Ministry in general all year long.” 

 “I was a little shy, but happy now you’re here,” beamed Sindy Luis Lopez, seven-year-old student at Shwab. Her favorite subject is science and she wants to be a librarian when she grows up. Her class was in the middle of working on their math assignments when the players surprised them, chatting excitedly and asking questions after the athletes introduced themselves to the kids. The players even sat down with the students to help them with their classwork.

“We know kids look up to us as professional football players and we were, at one time, just like them— seven-, eight-year-olds; we got a chance to be with them today,” said Brett Keisel, former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end. “And it’s just fun to see their eyes light up, talk to us about being a professional and all. And we get to talk to them about five plus six.”

“Just to spend a few minutes with the kids, you wish you had all day, or even months,” said Brad Smith, former NY Jets wide receiver. “But just a moment to inspire some kids to achieve their dreams and their future, you never know who you’re dealing with … They are the next leaders of our society. You just gotta be able to pour back a little bit into them.”