Bears general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus visited the Maryville Academy's Children's Health Center in Chicago Monday to learn about the facility while visiting with staff and children. The Center is home to the Bears' designated Courage House, the Maryville Crisis Nursery and the Children's Healthcare Center.
"We stopped by, and we were able to spend time with the nurses and staff as well as visit with the children," Poles said. "It's really touching the time that they put into this place to help support families as well as children that need medical support."
"We just want to spread the love," Eberflus said. "That's the main thing of coming here and showing them our support, showing them our love and really telling the people that work here how good of a job they're doing. And just encouraging them to keep doing it."
Poles and Eberflus were given a tour of both the Crisis Nursery, which provides short-term care of children for families in distress, and the Children's Health Care Center, a 16-bed facility that cares for medically complex children from newborn through 21 years old.
While the Crisis Nursery houses an average of four children every day, the Children's Health Care Center is typically at capacity and always has a waitlist of at least 30 children.
Helene Pochopien, the Health Care Center's Nursing Director, said placing children back at home and teaching parents how to care for their child are the facility's goals. The children often spend four months to a year in Maryville's care as the staff works with Chicago's major medical centers to help each child reach their full potential, allowing them "function in society and become part of their family."
"It's really important and special to us to be recognized by the Bears and to have Matt and Ryan come here today, see our unit and see the good work that we're doing," Pochopien said. "[The children] were all excited when they knew that the Bears were coming here to see them. We made sure they were all dressed in Bears gear for the occasion, so that makes us really happy. We like to have the community, and especially the Bears, recognize that we're here and the good work we feel like that we're doing."
The best part of the visit for Poles and Eberflus was interacting and taking pictures with children on both sides of the building while giving everyone Staley bear stuffed animals and Bears beanies.
"I love taking the pictures, everybody's smiling and taking pictures with the kids," Eberflus said. "That was fun for us. Then giving out the bears. We gave a lot of the Staley bears out and to see the smiles on the faces of those children, to me, that was really special."
As the visit wrapped up, Eberflus provided a message of support and gratitude to the staff and leadership of Maryville, voicing his appreciation for the life-changing work they do across the Chicagoland area.
"For our dear children, whom they just gave some time with and some fun with and some love with, it just bolstered our children's excitement," said Sister Catherine M. Ryan, Maryville's Executive Director. "And I think anyone who was there at the time they were meeting with them could see the joy in the children and the appreciation.
"It also means a lot to our staff. Our dedicated staff are working with the children every day. They love the children. They love working with the families, but they don't get a lot of attention. To hear the support of both the general manager and the coach telling them that what they're doing is appreciated and important, that was such a burst of support to our staff. As they say in the ads, it's priceless, believe me, there's no way to pay for that kind of affirmation by people they respect."
The Bears have a longstanding relationship with Maryville, beginning with the NFL's Ed Block Courage Award, which annually honors one player from each team for his courage and inspiration throughout the season. The Ed Block Foundation partners NFL teams with Courage Houses – facilities that young victims of abuse, violence and neglect – in their cities. Maryville Academy's Crisis Nursey in Des Plaines is the designated Courage House for the Bears organization since 2009.
Each year Maryville sponsors the Ed Block Courage Award and the Ed McCaskey Scholarship Fund Luncheon, which also honors the late Ed McCaskey by raising funds to provide higher education scholarships to the children of Maryville. This year's luncheon is scheduled on March 14 at Manzo Banquet in Des Plaines. Sister Catherine said the Bears also donate tickets to Maryville to provide the children an opportunity to see their hometown team and often meet the McCaskey family.
"Maryville is really blessed that the Chicago Bears have been supporting the children of Maryville for years," Sister Catherine said. "It makes such a difference because our children have a great deal of heart and a great deal of potential, but we need to help them have the resources they need to succeed.
"We tell our children, there are only two gifts that no one can take away – values and education. What the Chicago Bears do in the McCaskey luncheon is promote good values and help support education for our young people so they can go on to college and some to trade schools and sometime to further education. So the Chicago Bears make a very big difference in the lives of our children in that way."