I’m very excited to write about today’s charity, the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation. In choosing the charities to include in the Gridiron Giving series, I looked for organizations with some or all of the following: (1) a personal connection between the player and the mission of his organization; (2) unique, but practical solutions to the issues addressed by the organization; and (3) a real passion and commitment by the founding player. The Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation hits all three notes.
Charles Tillman is in his ninth season in the NFL, playing cornerback for the Chicago Bears. In 2008, his daughter, Tiana, was diagnosed at three months old with dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that prevents the heart from pumping blood with as much force as healthy muscle can. Charles and his wife, Jackie, were told that a heart transplant was Tiana’s best chance for survival, and she was placed on the transplant list. Fortunately, Tiana received a live-saving heart transplant when she was six months of age and she is able to lead a normal life today.
Inspired by his experiences, Charles Tillman is now an organ donation advocate, speaking about his family’s experience and encouraging people to be donors. However, he has also used his personal experiences as the father of a sick and, later, healing child to consider how he can help parents and children in similar circumstances. The mission of the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation is to provide opportunities and resources to children and their families who are in such need. Since 2005, Charles Tillman's charitable efforts have impacted the lives of over one million Chicago-area children.
One of the Foundation’s programs is “Charles’ Locker,” which stocks secure cabinets in children’s hospitals in Chicago area with iPads, notebook computers, DVD players, portable Play Station systems and other electronic handheld games and gadgets. Not only do these electronics help kids and families pass the time while in the hospital, but they also helps parents stay connected while they put other matters on hold to help their child heal and recover.
Charles’ dedication to families of ill children extends outside the hospital walls, too. The Foundation’s Field of Dreams program fulfills sports-related wishes such as tickets to see the Bears and the Chicago Bulls, and tours of Soldier Field, where the Bears play. Every spring, the Foundation hosts the TendHER Heart Luncheon for 150 or more mothers of critically or chronically ill children. These get-togethers give mothers in similar circumstances a chance to connect and support each other, as well as enjoy some time for themselves. They even get swag bags loaded with goodies such as Nook e-readers and cosmetics!
Finally, the Tiana Fund provides assistance to economically at-risk families in need to strengthen their ability to care for themselves and their families, as well as contribute to the community.
It is no surprise that Charles Tillman has received a nomination for this year’s Walter Payton Award, a prestigious award that honors the winner’s volunteer and charity work, in addition to his skills as a football player. Tillman should be lauded not only for the many ways he is giving back to the community, but also for using a frightening and humbling experience to help him improve the lives of other families who are going through the same thing. Through the Foundation, he manages to help parents find their sense of self during a time when all of their focus is on their children.
Another way the Charles Tillman and the Foundation help parents bring the focus back to life, and fun, is through their annual Holiday Celebrations. Each year, Charles and Jackie visit Chicago-area hospitals with some volunteers to hand out gifts, visit with families and participate in hospital activities to spread some holiday cheer. This year, the Foundation is holding a child sponsorship drive. For a $100 donation, you can sponsor a child and help him or her have a merrier holiday.
For more information about the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, please visit www.charlestillman.org. Anyone interested in making a donation for the Holiday Celebrations should visit the Foundation’s home page and click on the orange “Donate” tab, situated to the right of the page beneath the blue “News & Events” tab. If you are not able to make a donation, I encourage you to consider how you might be able to bring some warmth and joy to children recovering in your local hospitals. Anyone who likes to cook should consider cooking for families at your local Ronald McDonald house. Since many families staying in their facilities can’t make it to the grocery store too often, home-cooked meals are always appreciated.
Thanks for reading about the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation!