Minutes before Bears President & CEO Kevin Warren, alongside his wife, Greta, announced a $1 million pledge to Lurie Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, he was overcome with emotion.
To welcome the Warrens and provide a token of appreciation, Lurie Children's Hospital President & Chief Development Officer Dr. Grant Stirling presented Warren, Greta and their daughter, Peri, with pins in the shape of a child's hand — the hospital's signature symbol.
Warren immediately positioned the little blue pin right beside the "GSH" pin on his suit jacket.
That moment was special to Warren as he reflected on the many moments in his life that led Greta and him to making the donation, specifically the passing of his sister, Carolyn, who battled cancer and his own experience of spending months in a hospital following a bike accident that left him in traction and a full body cast when he was 11 years old.
As Warren addressed hospital staff, patients and their families, he expressed his gratitude for having the resources to help children and their families in Chicago.
"We're all in here with Lurie Children's Hospital," Warren said. "We've been blessed with two incredible, healthy, talented, vibrant children – our daughter, Peri, and our son, Powers. I'm in prayer every day on my hands and knees thanking God for them. We live downtown. We love Chicago. This is the greatest city on the planet. And the opportunity to help children, to help families [here], is critically important to us.
"We look forward to building a long-term, fortified, powerful relationship with Lurie Children's Hospital. This will be the first of many donations that we'll make. We look forward to building with them to be able to continually deliver financial resources to this hospital. The other thing we look forward to – spending our time here, to be able to volunteer our time and spend time with families and children, to be able to add value here. This is very special to us. We're honored, we're grateful, we're blessed to be able to stand here today."
Through the Warren Family Foundation, the $1 million pledge will mainly be allocated to initiatives that directly assists families in managing the logistical and financial burdens associated with their child's treatment journey.
Helping families who are impacted by pediatric cancer and serious blood disorders manage the day-to-day challenges is something Warren has been committed to since his time in Minnesota with the Vikings. During Carolyn’s final moments with Warren and Greta, she asked them to "Do what you can to make [children's] lives easier."
Following Carolyn's passing in 2014, Warren and Greta established Carolyn's Comforts Fund, a children's cancer emergency assistance program at M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. Warren and Greta donated $1 million to Masonic Children's Hospital in honor of Carolyn.
In November 2023, Carolyn’s Comforts disbursed its 1,000th grant, which Warren commemorated at the hospital during the Bears' trip to Minneapolis for their Monday Night Football game.
Hitting that milestone in Minnesota allowed the Warrens to focus in on bringing similar aid to Chicago.
"Today marked the beginning of an effect that hopefully we can have on a number of families here in the Chicagoland area and nationwide," Greta said. "I know that there are a lot of children that come here who need the resources that are provided by Lurie's. I thank God that we are in the position to provide some financial relief because a lot of these families are not getting the financial help for the day-to-day of their child being diagnosed with cancer. There's a lot of financial obligations that are unmet and they need not to be stressed by them, in addition to their child going through life-threatening procedures. So, I just thank God that we're in the position to help. And I think Carolyn, Kevin's sister, is smiling once again."
Warren also felt making the donation on the Friday before the Bears take a trip to Lambeau Field for their season-finale would be a full-circle moment.
In the early hours of Oct. 2, 2014, Warren received a call while at the team hotel in Green Bay as the Vikings were set to play the Packers later that day. Warren's other sister delivered the new that Carolyn had passed.
"I had just gone earlier in the week to see Carolyn and flew back and caught the team plane when I was with the Vikings to play the Packers, and I got the call," Warren said. "When the phone rang at 2:30 in the morning, I knew exactly what it was.
"But it really became an opportunity for us to lean into it. Her words resonated with Greta and myself, and so we did something about it and we leaned forward. I just saw the blessing that it meant to so many kids. So now to be able to see her legacy go from Arizona to Minnesota now to Illinois, with all the young people around the world who will continue to pay it forward."
After the Warrens spoke on Friday morning, several staff members shared their gratitude for the donation and explained the importance of those resources.
"We can only succeed in supporting children and families through this journey with partners that share that vision of transformational impact," Lurie Children's Hospital President & CEO Dr. Tom Shanley said, "which is why we are so grateful today to welcome Kevin and Greta Warren. It is Lurie's distinct honor to welcome both of them, to share their gift — a remarkable and transformational impact."
Kevin and Greta also spent time meeting with children and their families who are currently receiving treatment at Lurie Children's. One of those children, Toby Wells, had just met Warren and members of the Bears team at Halas Hall through the Make-A-Wish program on Dec. 8 and was the Champion of the Game on Dec. 10.
The family did not know Warren was pledging the donation on Friday, but ran into him while on their way to Toby's appointment to ring the bell. Before and after the press conference, Warren spent more time with Toby and his family, congratulating him on his big day.
"It was amazing," Anna Wells, Toby's mom, said. "We didn't know he was going to be here. We really love Lurie's. They've taken great care of us so it was really exciting to see him donating on the day of our bell ringing."
Warren was just as excited to see Toby on Friday as it served as a real-time reminder of why he and Greta are thrilled to be supporting Lurie Children's and pouring into the Chicago community. And it reminded him of Carolyn's powerful legacy, allowing him to feel comfort in knowing his sister is grateful for the work he and Greta have done in her name.
"Carolyn was definitely on my mind this morning," Warren said. "She would really be pleased. This turned out to be really special today. You dream about days like today. This really makes a difference."