CHANDLER, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals suffered their worst loss of the season on Sunday against the Lions, but one Cardinal found a way to cheer himself up.
Linebacker Devon Kennard surprised 10 kids from the ICAN after-school program in Chandler with a very special Christmas present.
The kids, who were chosen because of their success in the classroom and at the center this year, all received $500 Target gift cards, books and school supplies, which were hand picked by Kennard.
The kids were also surprised by Kennard himself, who spent some time getting to know them on Monday, which really meant a lot to the kids.
“I’m so happy," 6th grader Ivan Murillo said. "This is like a dream come true. Honestly, I’m about to start crying because this feels so good. I’m so happy. It’s such a wonderful thing, He’s such a kind, nice and good person.”
For Kennard, who grew up in Ahwatukee and went to Desert Vista High School, working with programs like ICAN is a passion project.
“For me, I’ve always focused on after-school programs my entire career, everywhere I’ve played," Kennard said. "I wanted to find the best ones because I think you can make a huge impact in kids on a daily basis when you’re able to be in a setting that you can teach them, you can help them, develop them, and after-school programs provide that. It also gets kids out of the streets. You know, a lot of parents work a little later, and instead of them being home alone, messing around, not getting their work done, being distracted, they get to come into a setting where they can really learn and be taught and have discipline and structure and be around peers that are similar-minded and are doing the same thing and that’s what ICAN provides."
Kennard added that giving kids gifts like this can show them how much they are valued and remind them that they are on the right path.
“I think it’s really important to reward kids who are doing exceptional in all areas of their life," Kennard said. "So to be able to work with ICAN and identifying kids that really deserve it and may or may not be getting gifts elsewhere, for me that just means so much because I want to encourage them that ‘Hey, you’re headed in the right direction, you keep on doing things the right way, you keep on working hard, you show good leadership, you be a good kid and you’re going to be able to accomplish anything you want to in your life.’ And I want them to be rewarded. I know when I was younger, to be able to meet someone in my position would mean a lot."
Volunteering with the east Valley after-school program has actually become a Kennard family tradition, which neither ICAN nor Kennard realized until after he started volunteering.
"The backstory is my dad (Derek) played here for the Cardinals way back in the day as well and he actually worked with ICAN and I had no idea," Kennard said. "I started volunteering here and then he saw a picture that I posted on social media and was like, ‘Hey, I used to work for ICAN as well!’ So it’s kind of full circle for me that I’m working with the organization that my dad used to work with when he was playing."
"Devon has been a great friend to ICAN and to our kids," ICAN CEO Shelby Pedersen said. "He grew up in the community and knows ICAN. In fact, his dad worked and volunteered at ICAN way back in the ‘90s, which blew our minds."
One of the presents Kennard gave to all 10 kids, other than the gift card, was a copy of the novel, 'The Alchemist' by Paulo Coelho, which Kennard says is one of his favorite books.
"It’s about goal setting and what your whole purpose in life is and I remember when I was their age, reading a book like this would have had a huge impact in my life," Kennard said. "Reading is important to me and that’s something I wanted to share with all the kids."
To find out more about ICAN, click here.
Kennard and the Cardinals will be back on the field on Christmas night when they host the Indianapolis Colts at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Kickoff is at 6:15 p.m.