"Do you know where you are going tomorrow?" asked Michele, our Executive Director, to 10 Wheels for Ed (WFE) students and their family members at the pre-trip meeting. "MIAMI," the group’s swift retort echoed through the administrative building’s oak cavern. "That’s right; Mr. LeBron is sending you guys to Miami!"
With the help of our partner, Akron Public Schools, 10 students were chosen from our WFE program. The students were selected because they earned every single one of LeBron’s wristbands. The wristbands, which are based on our WFE PROMISE that all of our kids make, were earned for achieving goals centered on good attendance, good grades, good behavior, and good character.
At the pre-travel meeting, our WFE MVPs were given a special gift: I PROMISE journals. Their first assignment was given to them shortly after the trip was announced, "Mr. LeBron’s favorite subject in school was art, and we even have some of his art hanging in our office. What is your favorite subject in school and why?"
The next day, one-by-one, a caravan of vehicles poured into our office parking lot. Doors swung quickly open as our kids sprang to life, leaving their parents struggling to catch up (after all, they had bags to carry). Like a glimmering beacon, two black limo buses stood in the emerging Akron sun, "I wish we could take these to school," said WFE MVP Bryce, as he stood with his eyes transfixed on the bus’s large Samsung TV.
As goodbyes and last minute hugs were exchanged, our kids turned their attention to the task at hand, "Are we seeing Mr. LeBron today?" a wide-eyed Gevion asked as he ran toward the limo bus. Our group was off!
"Is that our plane?" a small voice sprang through the hum of the bus’s engine as we neared Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. For many of our WFE MVPs this was their first time on an airplane.
As our boarding time neared, our students gathered around Konstantine for an important lesson. "What do you think makes a plane fly?" asked Konstantine (whom we affectionately call C) to the group which was seated on the floor in a tight circle. Jamil’s hand shot up, "Density!" he was close. Using Michele as an example, C went on to explain the concepts of thrust and lift, "Therefore, in order for Ms. Michele to fly, she would need wings AND an engine attached to her!" After much laughter and an improvised game of catch, it was time to board.
If our kids were scared, they never showed it; they handled the flight like seasoned veterans. After some naps and photo ops, day slowly turned to night and the crowded plane began to make its decent.
As the team walked outside the airport to greet their driver, our kids marveled at their new set of wheels; two busses became one. Our long white bus fought its way through the Miami night traffic to the hotel, all the while, our kids were, yet again, glued to their windows.
The bus slowly crept towards the entrance of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Although everyone was tired, the group perked up, significantly. As our kids hopped off of our large bus, they were greeted by the hotel staff, "Welcome to the Mandarin Oriental!" As bags were being handed out, Gevion stopped to pose for a picture, "Mom, look!" he said as he posed below the hotel’s logo. After gathering in the hotel lobby for a short debriefing, our families went up to their luxurious rooms.
While overlooking the bay and listening to a song that encouraged them to "be anything they want to be", our kids wrote about their aspirations: "I want to be a doctor and work for LeBron’s Foundation," wrote Jamil; Cheyenne dreams of returning to Atlantic City with her grandparents; and Bryce wants to be a police officer so he can help people.
After journaling, it was time to get active; after all, what is a trip to see LeBron if there isn’t a workout? Once music filled the warm morning air, it was painfully clear, our kids were much better at this than our Foundation team. "Mr. C! That’s not how you do the hokey pokey!" said Miah.
The group, which was breathing slightly deeper and quicker than they had earlier, headed back up to the hotel; it was time for breakfast. One-by-one our WFE MVPs and their parents worked their way around the buffet line, selecting their fuel for the day. Protein, carbohydrates and a little bit of sugar; it was all there as the group enjoyed their private breakfast overlooking the bay.
As breakfast finished up, our group made its way down to the Mandarin’s private beach. Parents carefully navigated hammocks as their children ran and played midnight and freeze tag in the sand. While our kids and parents enjoyed the beach, a special visitor arrived: ESPN! Our WFE MVPs were treated like star athletes as they were interviewed beneath the shade of a tall palm.
Shortly after our visit to the Mandarin’s beach, the group made its way to a family friendly spot on the ocean. Our kids were wide-eyed as the long, white bus pulled up to the sand. "Raise your hand if you want Mr. C to climb up the tree and grab you a coconut," announced a member of the group. All hands quickly shot up.
Experiencing the ocean was a first for many of our WFE MVPs, but they jumped right in, some of them, literally! After playing in the sand and water, our kids and their parents scurried back to the bus with seashells and coconuts in hand. Although many of our kids did not want to leave the beach, they quickly changed their minds when they learned where they were headed: to be with Mr. LeBron.
Our kids sat eagerly on the edge of their seats for much of the 20 minute ride to American Airlines Arena, trading ideas on what being on stage would be like.
"Look, it’s LeBron," said one of our WFE MVPs as their voice pierced the bus’s clamor. Indeed, it was LeBron, only he was in massive billboard form.
Our kids bolted off of the bus, briskly walking through the players’ garage, through security and into their seats. There was no time to be in awe, they had a place to be, "Right here on stage kids," said a suit-clad man with a wire running up to his ear. Their place was set, right next to Mr. LeBron.
At the first sight of LeBron, our kids jumped out of their seats, waving and clapping. "It’s because of these kids right here," LeBron said as he turned and pointed toward his WFE MVPs and their parents. He continued his remarks saying, "I promised that I would never let these kids down — ever — in whatever I do on and off the floor. I want to thank you guys for being here." After fielding questions from a global set of reporters, LeBron gathered his kids for a special photo.
After their moment on stage with LeBron, our kids sat in the arena and took some time to journal. The road for LeBron has had some tough moments; what would they do when the road to their goals got tough? "Remember the PROMISE" wrote Kelsey.
Once our WFE MVPs were finished at the arena, they ventured to a local kid friendly hang out, the Cool De Sac. As soon as our kids got through the admission’s gate, they were off! From video games to slides and monkey bars, our kids had a blast as their parents sat back, enjoyed their food and relaxed; that is, until a roar of applause erupted as our kids were shown on the big screen.
After eating their dinner, our WFE MVPs were treated to their own celebratory snack: ice cream and brownie sundaes, a treat to cap our adventure
The group made their way from the Cool De Sac to the bus for one final trip; we were off to the airport. This was not just any airport; however, our kids were off to the private airport where a surprise from Mr. LeBron was waiting for them.
When the bus pulled up, there was a plane waiting for us. "Our own plane?" asked La’Zurae. After checking luggage, the group made its way onto the tarmac and into their plane. Although our kids and their parents were excited, they were exhausted and soon fell asleep as our wheels lifted off of the ground. Those who managed to keep their eyes open were treated to a trip up to the cockpit for an extra special view.
These WFE MVPs had the trip of a lifetime. Our kids were home sweet home and could not wait to share tales of their adventures with their classmates.