FREE—charitably enlightening

This afternoon I, along with some of the boxers from the upcoming Long Island Fight For Charity event, made a visit to one of the three benefiting charities, Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. (FREE). FREE supports individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities, mental illness and traumatic brain injury. An administrator gave us a tour of the facility and we had the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the special individuals who benefit from this organization’s efforts.

The facility was located in Old Bethpage, not too far from the UFC Farmingdale and Life Time Athletic gyms I frequent. Aside from the general location and brief overview printed within our prepared fundraising materials, I didn’t know very much about the organization nor the folks it supports. I was pleasantly surprised.

The experience began with some quick video interviews of the boxers—questions included why we fight and what we knew about FREE, in particular. Attending today’s event were fellow boxers Brian “The Punisher” Weiner; Christen “Princess of Pain” Mencaccini-Pellegrini; John “Imperial Knight” Kraft; Austin “The Cell King” Fierstadt; and Kyle “The Real Deal” Burkhardt… along with yours truly.

Shortly after, we began a guided tour of the facility.

Strolling through hallways lined with encouraging hand-painted phrases and many framed smiling faces, we were greeted by many warm and friendly personalities. Our guide shared many of the projects and programs the organization has spearheaded or participated in, including a very comprehensive work placement program.

Our first stop was with the Ensemble—a group of extremely talented singers/musicians whose passion for their craft was palpable. They blessed us with a wonderful performance that, honestly, forced me to told back some tears. But, I’m a boxer… so… yeah, no tears were going to be released today. <grin>

The tour continued as we made some pitstops down a few more hallways, learning more about the accomplishments of the group and, ultimately, arriving to what appeared to be a gymnasium.

For our second round of entertainment we were introduced to their drum corps. This [larger] group of musicians were a bit more animated than the first and certainly a lot louder. We learned of their travels, to competitions and the like, just before they began their percussion sequence. Just as impressive as the Ensemble performance before, my boxing comrades and I graciously adorned smiles that stretched from ear-to-ear.

Following a well-deserved round of applause, we met and shook the hands of each drummer and it was heart-warming, to say the least.

We concluded our visit giving a boxing demonstration of sorts—where one of the observers likened us to Power Rangers, a sincere compliment worth sharing—and a final round of video interviews.

This time, for the interview, our collective observations were better informed and certainly warmer. Suffice (it) to say, each boxer left our visit touched. For me, I left with a clear vision of WHO we are fighting for. Spending time with those who will directly benefit from the funds we are raising altered my perspective on what this entire exercise is really about. I went from believing I was “helping Long Islanders”—which, yes, we are—to helping these specific people with specific needs and aspirations.

As if a punch to the face wasn’t real enough… I now understand the true reason why I am participating in this charitable event and why I, along with my fellow boxers, are making a difference.

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