It's not uncommon for professional athletes to reach out into the community and do something charitable, but how genuine their efforts are is sometimes called into question.
Never with Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham.
The former Florida Gator has been a long-time partner of the 1 Voice Foundation, partnering with the organization throughout the year to stage various charity events that raise money for kids who suffer from cancer and their families. This Friday, he will help the charity with its annual fishing tournament, a joint concept by Graham and 1 Voice.
"I was introduced to the 1 Voice Foundation through some friends, and I really liked what they were about," Graham said. "It was more about the kids having an experience. I really like the cause, and I think this event is going to be another good fundraiser for the kids."
For the families, a fishing tournament is a rare chance to come together with other people who understand what they're going through on a daily basis and unwind under the sun.
"It's a chance to forget about the cancer and just be together as a family," Riverview's Tracy Hernandez said. "These events have allowed us to create some great memories that we wouldn't have been able to do on our own, and we have met some great people doing it."
For Hernandez, whose 13-year old son Connor has suffered from leukemia for the last nine years, the work done by 1 Voice means everything.
"I've got two older boys other than him, and having the 1 Voice has been so important for me because it keeps me from feeling like I'm on my own," Hernandez said. "Even if it's just bringing dinner to my house one night, little things like that mean a lot. "
Graham and his wife Alicia's praises are sung by the parents who benefit from the 1 Voice organization and the people who run it.
Brandon's Lori Astacio and her 5-year old son Leonardo have felt the touch of the foundation, an in particular, 1 Voice Executive Director Mary Ann Massolio. Since meeting her five years ago when newborn Leonardo was diagnosed with cancer, Massolio has been a crutch for the Astacio family to lean on.
"When I think of what Mary Ann has done since she became a part of our lives I get very emotional," Astacio said. "When you're introduced to this life you feel like you have no place to turn and that no one understands. She basically saved us from hopelessness because you get to a very dark place when you're dealing with this.
"She has touched our lives so deeply. She has kept us active socially, reassured us that we aren't alone and given such incredible emotional support. The foundation has meant the world to my family for what they've done to raise awareness for us and to bring us into this community where professional athletes and the community genuinely care and try to help. There really aren't words to describe how she brings it all together."
Westchase's Sherri Balant has a 14-year old daughter, Makayla, suffering from cancer and has come to know Graham through the events. She, like other parents, attests to his generosity and feels that the Bucaneers organization "could do with more Earnest Grahams."
"It's so meaningful to the kids and families that someone in a position like that takes the time to get to know the children and families like he and Alicia do," Balant said. "It's special to know that he cares and is willing to give his time. It takes a really kind individual to understand and want to give back. He is that."
As a famous athlete, Graham is just happy that the families know he cares.
"It's special that it's our family that is able to help other families," Graham said. "On top of it if we can raise some funds for them and go out and have some fun with them, which is good. I grew up fishing, so I love this event and it's a great opportunity for everybody to get out, enjoy the sun and enjoy fishing."
The Inshore Slam kicks off at the Florida Marina Club, 5210 W. Tyson Ave., Tampa, at 7 a.m. this Friday when breakfast is served and event day registration opens up. The cost is $125 per angler.
At 8:30 a.m., the tournament will begin with a fleet of boats taking the anglers out into Tampa Bay. At 2 p.m. the 1 Voice families will arrive and the anglers will return to turn in their fish and enjoy a taco bar buffet. For more information, visit the tournament website.