Ahead of Thursday night's game against the Panthers, the Bears partnered with Amazon to host over 40 students from two youth organizations – Youth Guidance's Waukegan program and BUILD Chicago – at Halas Hall Oct. 30.
The students traveled to Lake Forest to participate in talking circles with Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson, defensive tackle Justin Jones and defensive end Khalid Kareem and received a tour of Halas Hall. Along with the group conversations, Johnson, Jones and Kareem spent more time with the students taking pictures and signing autographs.
"This has been an amazing experience for our young people," Youth Guidance chief of staff April Curtis said. "To have an opportunity to engage with players and to see the facility, for them, is a dream come true. For some of them, they want to be football players, baseball players, they want to go off to college and to see it here rather than just see it on TV, has been amazing. Just listening into the circles, the young people are definitely empowered and engaged and being able to speak truths about their experiences here and outside of here."
With the Bears' Salute to Service game landing on Thursday Night Football, Amazon brought members of their Warriors program that supports veterans and military spouses in their transition to the workforce.
Amazon also surprised both Youth Guidance and BUILD with $25,000 donations and gifted each student with a tablet.
"The contribution for the organization helps us do this work and do more with it," BUILD CEO Adam Alonso said. "It was a complete surprise and grateful for that because our work is hard and we don't always know where all the funding will come from so these kinds of gifts and surprises are inspiring for all of us.
"For our young people, they wouldn't go out and buy a tablet. They wouldn't have access to these things normally because sometimes it's about real basic things like I need to live in a house that has food and can I get my homework done? Now to have a tablet, they can go online and get free wifi from us, it's just a blessing to everyone."
In addition to Amazon's longstanding relationships with Youth Guidance and BUILD, Bears Care, the team's charitable arm, has provided significant support to both organizations for over 10 years.
"Bears Care was excited that Amazon chose to highlight the work of two of its long-time community partners, BUILD Chicago and Youth Guidance with their recent event in conjunction with the Bears upcoming appearance on 'Thursday Night Football,' director of Bears Care Marge Hamm said. "Both organizations have an unwavering commitment to violence prevention and youth development programs that seek to support at-risk youth in making responsible decisions and seeing a path to a promising future.
"It was exciting to witness our players and the students actively engage in peace circles that facilitated honest communication, thoughtful reflection and respect."
The Bears hosted and participated in a variety of events honoring and supporting the military ahead of Nov. 9's Salute to Service game against the Panthers at Soldier Field.
At the event, Johnson, Jones and Kareem split up into three circles with the students and shared their experiences in life and football while listening to those of the kids.
Johnson spoke to the students about understanding your purpose and learning how to be selfless while also holding the people around you accountable.
"We were out here just talking to the kids about leadership," Johnson said. "Just telling them what the importance of it is, what some of the biggest elements of leadership are, what good leadership looks like and what bad leadership looks like. So just giving them an opportunity to hear my story, hear how I'm a leader and how I've shown my leadership traits throughout my years growing up."
Both Jones and Kareem talked about what success looks like to them both from a football standpoint and in life. Jones discussed how adversity plays a large role in the type of success you have and the gratification it provides. Kareem shared his experiences with the highs and lows of football, like playing in the Super Bowl then dealing with injuries and setbacks, and discussed how those events have changed his perspective on success.
Jones, who has participated in the talking circles with Youth Guidance before, expressed the importance of sharing his personal story with the kids while also listening to their experiences and providing advice.
"I enjoy the circle time and being around the guys like that," Jones said. "Stuff like that is important because I didn't have that when I was growing up. I wish I did because having someone to talk to that you can connect with, you can't put a price on that."
While Kareem was new to the circles, he enjoyed being a resource to the students and helping them be open, honest and vulnerable with each other.
"It's important for me to be here because growing up so many people poured into me, so I feel like I'd be doing them a disservice if I didn't honor that and give it back to all the kids who need it probably more than I did," That's why I do it because at the end of the day, kids always need a positive influence whether it's a parent, counselor, player and I'll be that person for them."