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Guest column: Falcons bring smiles to Challenged Child kids
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For nearly 35 years, United Way has enjoyed a partnership with the National Football League making it the longest running sports and charity collaboration in history.

More than a billion dollars in airtime has been contributed during those three-plus decades.

Undoubtedly, the most visible aspect of the NFL-United Way partnership is the advertising series which is broadcast each week of the football season to more than 120 million viewers across the country. No other vehicle has been more effective in providing visibility for United Way.

Since 1999, the NFL and United Way have partnered in a program known as Hometown Huddle. This program is a collection of hands-on volunteer projects implemented simultaneously on a single Tuesday in different NFL cities across the country. On that day, NFL players, cheerleaders and their families participate in a variety of volunteer activities at a local United Way agency.

This year's Hometown Huddle was held Oct. 9. The Atlanta Falcons choose to participate in six different projects all around the metro Atlanta area, including a stop in Hall County. United Way of Hall County was delighted to play host to six players, a cheerleader and staff at Challenged Child and Friends.

The excitement of the children was contagious as we all anxiously awaited the arrival of the bus bearing the Falcon players. And we were not disappointed. From the moment they stepped from the bus, the players were friendly and engaged, graciously posing for photo after photo and speaking to each child clamoring around their feet for attention. They presented gifts for the center and immediately began to interact with the children.

It was fun to watch a more than 6-foot-tall player sitting in the floor playing with blocks or drinking punch and eating cookies surrounded by children. It was hard to tell who was having the most fun. Let me assure you, that day, the Falcons were indeed winners to us!

On behalf of United Way of Hall County and our 16 partner agencies and funded programs, I thank Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons organization for making this a truly special day.

But you don't have to be a NFL team owner or player to make an impact in our community. A gift to the United Way annual campaign can also bring joy, hope, encouragement or comfort to a friend or neighbor. From the youngest, most innocent child to the cherished and valuable senior adult, United Way is creating opportunities for those who live here to have a good life, something we all want.

Together, united, we matter more than we know. Please give generously. For more information or to make a gift, log on to our Web site or call us at (770) 536-1121.

Jackie Wallace is president and chief professional officer of United Way of Hall County.