From Undrafted to Two-Time Super Bowl Champ, New York Giants’ Jonathan Casillas Works to Give Back

By Jerry Del Priore

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Jonathan Casillas poses for photo at the pre-show event.

New York Giants linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas knows what it’s like to battle adversity—from a less-than-perfect childhood to being undrafted, he’s been through his fare share of hardships.

That’s why he works so hard on and off the gridiron in order to give back to the less fortunate, especially the children in his New Jersey community and surrounding areas.

One of ten children who lived through some lean years as a kid, Casillas dedicates his time to several philanthropic causes, such as his Forward Progress Football and Life Skills Camp in his hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Each year, the camp serves over 200 youth, grades sixth to twelfth, bestowing them with athletic and life skills, including healthy living/abstaining from drugs and alcohol education, positive versus negative uses of social media, the NCAA and college processes, and much more.

Casillas employs his family’s solid work ethic when it comes to inspiring himself toward achieving goals, and the love for his daughter, Jade, to helping others in need, setting a positive example for her and everyone else around him to follow.  

“I’ve always been motivated by family; my mom is a hard worker,” the six-foot-one, 227-pound affable 29-year-old explained at the 2017 Dream, Reach, Inspire event at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. “By the age of 24 she had three kids, and was on welfare. She never stopped until she got out of that situation.”

In addition, Casillas said, “Everything I do now is for my daughter; she’s five years old. I try to do everything (football and community-wise), and put on a good impression for not only myself and my team, but also for my family. That kind of translates over to the reasons why I do my community work.”

After a stellar football collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin, Casillas waited eagerly, expecting a team to call his name anywhere between the third and fifth rounds of the 2009 NFL draft.

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The inside lining of New York Giants Linebacker Jonathon Casillas’ Jacket, which he wore at 2017 Dream, Reach, Inspire Event in Brooklyn.

Due knee surgery that forced him to miss most of NFL combine, that never occurred. All 32 teams passed him up.

A man who admittedly doesn’t display much emotion, Casillas went up to his room to cry.

But the New Orleans Saints wound up inking him to a contract, in which he said his bonus was a mere $27,000, which pales in comparison to what some other players receive.

“Draft day was tough,” Casillas said. “It’s was very humbling, and very inspiring. And since that day on I have had a big chip on my shoulder. I still play with it. Two Super Bowl rings later and eight years plus now, everything is good.”

In his rookie year, Casillas was a man on a mission to take the jobs of incumbent Saint linebackers and any other players standing in his way of making a football impact

The young upstart played in 11 games that season, and was officially credited with recovering a third-quarter onside kick, helping the Saints defeat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.

Casillas captured his second Super Bowl ring when the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 28–24, in Super Bowl XLIX.

However, the Jersey City native and New Brunswick High School graduate remains grounded and humble, ready to lend a hand to any worthy cause if available.

“To do things like this, it’s definitely an honor to be asked to be a part of this,” Casillas said of sharing his story with the show’s audience. “I’m going to continue to make myself a positive role model and cement my legacy here in New York.”

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Dream, Reach, Inspire 2017 Annually Event Lives Up to the Hype

By Jerry Del Priore

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LaTavia Roberson with host Phil Taitt.

After the Phil Taitt Show had its first Dream, Reach, Inspire event at St. Francis College in Brooklyn last year, which was a resounded success, according to several people who attended the 2016 show, host Phil Taitt was nervous that the second night might not live up to the hype.

But he said Dream, Reach, Inspire 2017, held at the same site as last year’s event, turned out to be just as good, if not better, than the first.

“I was more nervous of living up to the success of the first one,” Taitt said after the show. “But whenever you do things the second time, there’s always a new spin to it. And there’s always different challenges, ups and downs, and the all arounds. I never dreamed of having one, but this was just the icing on the cake.”

The star-studded honorees included the likes of New York Giants linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas, entertainer Demetria McKinney of House of Payne fame. Plus, singer and soon-to-be author Latavia Roberson, who is a founded member of the all-female super-group Destiny’s Child, and beauty industry icon Miko Branch of the multi-million-dollar company Miss Jessie’s Hair Products.

Each celebrity recounted personal stories on their road to success, with their fair share of trials and tribulations encountered along the way, which, they said, helped shape them into the individuals they are today.

Undrafted out of the University of Wisconsin, Casillas, a bigtime community crusader, battled fiercely for significant gridiron time with the New Orleans Saints. Now, going into his ninth NFL season, the New Jersey native said he uses his fame as a vehicle to inspire and give back to the public, especially children.

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Jonathan Casillas stands for photo at the pre-show event.

“To do things like this, it’s definitely an honor to be asked to be a part of this,” two-time Super Bowl Champ Casillas said of sharing his story at the Dream, Reach, Inspire show. “I’m going to continue to make myself a positive role model and cement my legacy here in New York.”

Furthermore, Taitt noted that the message of hope and inspiration was at the forefront of the Dream, Reach, Inspire Show.

“Peoples’ lives were change, they were transformed, and that’s what I wanted to do this evening,” Taitt said.

Proceeds from Dream, Reach, Inspire will go to Unity in the Community’s Do Right, Do Good Scholarship Foundation, which provides students with financial funds to attend college.


Rain Doesn’t Douse Spirit Of Life’s 16th Annual Walkathon in Bergen Beach

By Jerry Del Priore

Meo Family

The Meo Family and Friends Sport Tommy Face cutouts during Spirit of Life 16th Annual Walkathon Saturday.

Leading up to the Spirit of Life Walk 16th annual Walkathon event on Saturday at Joseph T. McGuire Park in Bergen Beach, the steady rain looked as if it would put a damper on the “spirits” of all in attendance.

But the organizers of the occasion were able to move some of the festivities indoors to the John Malone Community Center and continue without a hitch.

The Walkathon is held each year to honor the memory of Tommy Meo Jr.—a 12-year-old affable boy from the Bergen Beach, Brooklyn area who was tragically killed in an accident on September 22, 2000.  

“Despite the rain, the Spirit of Life Organization successfully hosted the 16th annual Spirit of Life Walkathon in honor of Tommy Meo Jr,” said Gina Gampero, one of Tommy’s three sisters. “The turnout in the unpredictable weather was truly heart-warming and exemplified what it means to be surrounded by great family and friends, a supportive community and the most incredible volunteers and participants.”

Spirit of Life is a non-profit association started by the Meo family shortly after Tommy’s passing, in which it dedicates a relentless effect to assist the less fortunate. Through the walkathon’s fundraising efforts, the organization has been able to use the monies it collects to directly help families and children in need.

SOL Smiles

Despite the inclement weather, attendees are all smiles Saturday at SOL event.

Some of this year’s beneficiaries, according to Gampero, include a young boy named Bryan, who was afforded his life’s wish of visiting Orlando and swimming with the dolphins through the Dream Factory, a non-profit organization which grants dreams to critically and chronically ill children since 1980.

In addition, Gampero said SOF has sponsored a child who has been impacted by pediatric cancer, the chance to relish his childhood at Sunrise Day Camp this summer. Plus, it donated a Sunrise on Wheels project, which will provide a little bit of fun and joy to children awaiting treatment in pediatric oncology units of all participating hospitals.

It has also sponsored a dream room make over with Sunshine On A Ranney Day, for a nine-year-old boy by the name of Jacob, who will be receiving a beautiful therapy room.

The event also featured bounce houses, pony rides, face painting, a clown, a balloonist, a magician, delicious ices, cookie decorating, raffles and more for all the attendees.

For more information on Spirit of Life, follow it on Instagram @spiritoflife2.