By Paula Ann Solis
Baylor’s 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III is returning to Waco this May to raise funds for Friends for Life, a day center for the elderly and disabled where he learned everything he knows about the game — the game of dominoes, that is.
While Griffin was a student at Baylor he volunteered at the center, known by the clients as “campus,” and would play games while talking to the regulars. Access to a campus like Friends for Life gives caretakers of the elderly and disabled the time they need to keep their day jobs without having to put their loved ones in full-time nursing home facilities. Once clients become nursing home patients, their quality of life is often decreased compared to what they could experience in their homes, said Casey Moore, director of development at the campus.
To help the center expand its mission of keeping the elderly and disabled living independently for as long as possible, Griffin will take part in a Q-and-A moderated by President Ken Starr at 7 p.m. May 9 at the Ferrell Center. Tables are available for purchase on the floor, ranging in price from $1,000 to $50,000. General admission is also available for $15 if purchased before March 31, $20 if purchased after that date and $25 at the door. Tickets are on sale at friendsforlife.org.
Moore said she hopes to raise $250,000 for campus projects which include expanding the square footage of their facility to meet state guidelines for maximum occupancy. The campus can register 100 people at a time, but they are now at capacity.
“We’ve got a lot of adults with disabilities like Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy in their 20s, 30s and 40s,” Moore said. “We also have groups of elderly people with dementia who fall a lot and can’t stay home alone, but we can’t take anymore at all.”
Moore said Griffin has been talking with campus coordinators since July 2012, trying to find time in his NFL schedule to commit to the campus where he said he grew as a person.
Since leaving Baylor, Griffin has spoken on several occasions of the importance his encounters at Friends for Life have meant to him.
“Having the chance to go to Friends for Life and volunteer there was, you know, a great time in my life and it really shows, you know, just how much fun I’ve had here at Baylor and the things that I’ve seen to be able to grow,” Griffin said at a press conference in 2012.
Larry Patton, a native Wacoan and client at the campus for eight years, said he is not surprised Griffin has decided to return for such a selfless cause.
Although Patton has suffered multiple strokes and has diminished long-term memory, he has not forgotten the first time Griffin came to the center and became part of his life.
“He asked me things about me,” Patton said. “Somebody of that celebrity status, a lot of times you expect them to think it’s all about them, but he wanted to hear about me.”
Patton said the football star never played dominoes before visiting the center, but Patton took him under his wing and, through the game, became Griffin’s biggest fan.
Humility is the word Patton said best describes Griffin because he is the kind of person who knows how to use his status for the bettering of others. Patton said he recalls vividly the times Griffin would sit beside him just to tell him he was in his prayers. Patton said this type of atmosphere is typical on campus where, on a daily basis, Baylor students spend much of their time volunteering and the campus and comforting clients.
“It’s been a wonderful blessing for me because it’s given me more of a sense of belonging and I really like that,” Patton said. “As a senior citizen you like to look at the generation that is going to be more or less carrying you and I think I’m in great hands.”
Moore said she is hopeful the event will help develop a larger donor base for the center, which is one of only two centers of its kind in Waco. The Q-and-A will accompany a silent auction of signed football gear by Griffin and his former coach Art Briles.
Although Griffin’s schedule for the day is not fully planned yet, Moore said she would not be surprised if he decided to stop by the campus before the main event because that is the kind of person he is.
If he does stop by, his old friend Patton said he will be waiting.