The Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, The Dale Jr. Foundation and Heart of America teamed up on April 20 to provide LaSalle-Backus a brand-new library space at the LaSalle Backus Education Campus in northeast Washington, D.C.*
When the LaSalle-Backus Education Campus was chosen by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation to receive a brand new library space, principal Justin Ralston remembered hearing students immediately shout and cheer with approval.
"The first grade classroom ran out into the hallways and started chanting about their excitement for what was about to happen," he remembered.
The Redskins Charitable Foundation, The Dale Jr. Foundation and Heart of America teamed up to provide LaSalle-Backus a new library space. The makeover transformed the space with new bookcases, shelves and more.
Just five months after that announcement, some of those same students walked single-file into their new school library quiet and awestruck by what they saw – a completely transformed learning area filled with athletes, celebrities, politicians, teachers and volunteers smiling and waiting for their arrival.
The project, which was announced during the 56th Annual Redskins Welcome Home Luncheon, is a partnership between the Redskins Charitable Foundation and Dale Jr. Foundation to showcase the Foundations' shared focus around education. Teaming up with Heart of America, members from all three groups worked together for a few hours Friday morning building tables, fixing shelves and painting walls before furnishing the space with laptops and plenty of books.
The reason for this renovation? LaSalle-Backus, located in northeast Washington, D.C., was selected specifically due to their commitment to literacy in the 2017–2018 Redskins Read Program. The makeover, which transformed the space from an average school library to a literacy and technology hub, also came with special Redskins and Dale Jr. reading corners.
On hand to take part in the celebration were Redskins owner Dan Snyder, former NASCAR Driver and Redskins fan Dale Earnhardt Jr., Councilmember Jack Evans, and several Redskins players, along with Redskins' and the other foundations' staff members.
"We really love you guys, we want you to be happy here, enjoy this, cheer for our team and really succeed in life," Snyder said to a group of second graders before cutting the ribbon.
He stood beside Earnhardt Jr., who was making his first visit to a D.C. Public School and was glad to contribute through his foundation in conjunction with the Redskins.
"It's awesome to be able to partner with the Redskins being a fan all my life," Earnhardt said. "I never thought being a fan as a young boy that I would actually have the chance to do things with the organization, so this is a really cool thing as a fan and it's awesome that the players are here on their own personal time to do things like this."
Because of his former driving job – Earnhardt is now retired, expecting a child next week and will soon start broadcasting NASCAR events – he took the lead on putting decals on windows and walls. Running back Samaje Perine and tight end Jeremy Sprinkle put together tables and chairs; wide receiver Josh Doctson and longsnapper Nick Sundberg painted a mural in the hallway; defensive lineman Anthony Lanier II and guard Arie Kouandjio helped reach high places to post more inspirational messages.
"I used to love books and coming into the library [as a kid]," Doctson said. "You have all these things and all this technology in the library, it's going to draw these kids to go in there. To know that NFL players on the Redskins were part of this whole thing, it just gravitates the kids towards there."
As the group finished up and later interacted with students who would be using the resources for years to come, it was easy for some to remember their own experiences using their school libraries and how much kids at LaSalle-Backus will benefit from a diverse learning area.
"Every day we had library time," Sherry Gruden, wife of head coach Jay Gruden recalled of her childhood. "It can open a lot of doors. Reading is wonderful. It takes you to a place you've never been or teaches you something you didn't know. This is a really good opportunity to get lost into something and enjoy something."
"The changes in technology from when I went to school to what we have today, I mean there's Smartboards and so many things to interact with, whereas when I was going to school, it was books on the shelves and that's all the library was to all the kids," Earnhardt remembered. "But it's more of an interactive space than the library as we all knew it, and I think the kids get really excited about that."