For most of 12-year-old Alyssa MacNeil's life, she and her mother Suzanne have lived in and out of the homes of extended family members, but after years of hard work, Suzanne and Alyssa have recently moved into a house they can call their own. On Tuesday, they found themselves at a table in a room at Gillette Stadium, looking at a picture taken of them earlier that day with a new friend: Brandin Cooks.
"We don't have furniture yet but this will be our very first framed piece in our home," Suzanne said, looking down at the photo.
Before Saturday's AFC Divisional game, Brandin took to Twitter, but instead of firing off a pumped up tweet, he used his 280-characters to give a single mother and her child an unforgettable night.
Brandin wrote, "Knowing what my mom did for me and the sacrifices she made, I'd like to invite a single mother and her child to the game tonight. I have 2 tickets. #giveback #formamma"
That's when Suzanne's phone started buzzing, and it didn't stop. A few friends saw the post and submitted her name to Brandin, and before she knew it, she had a message from the Patriots wide receiver, asking if she wanted to go to the game.
"My heart went up into my throat. I thought, 'No one is ever going to believe this is happening to me right now. I don't even believe this is happening to me right now,'" Suzanne said. "I was just floored."
Suzanne immediately called Alyssa home from a friend's house, and the two spent the night at Gillette Stadium, watching the Patriots win over the Titans, sending them to their seventh straight AFC Championship game. It was an experience they likely wouldn't have been able to have on their own.
"There was no way I would ever be able to give her a playoff game experience," Suzanne said. "She's my best friend, and I would move heaven and earth to make her happy. She has mentioned how happy I've been with the whole experience because it wasn't just her. It was my turn to smile big too."
The story didn't end with a Patriots win on Saturday either. On Tuesday, they returned to Foxborough to meet the man who made it all happen.
Although Alyssa said she was "really nervous" to meet Brandin, it didn't take long for them to get to talking about their strong mothers and their faith and, of course, take a few selfies.
For Suzanne, seeing how Brandin pursued his dreams because of, not in spite of, his struggles reminded her of her own daughter.
"You can definitely tell that he's appreciative for everything his mom has done. He mentioned it numerous times, and I can appreciate what his mom did in order to give him the best. He has a hard background, but he was able to reach for the stars and follow his dreams," Suzanne said. "I would love nothing more than to let Alyssa reach for the stars and follow her dreams. I will do everything possible to make that happen for her."
Even more than a memorable night for Alyssa and Suzanne, Brandin's act of generosity reminded them both the power of giving back to others.
"I think it changed most of my life because it makes me want to help others more often, and be a really big Patriots fan," Alyssa said with a smile.