FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Prior to the start of each season, the Kraft family and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation host the Patriots Premiere, their largest fundraiser of the year, at Gillette Stadium. At this red carpet gala, Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft presents a community service award to one Patriots player in recognition of his many contributions in the community.
The Ron Burton Community Service Award is named after Ron Burton, the first player drafted in franchise history who left a lasting legacy by committing his life to helping others. His biggest community service project was the development of the Ron Burton Training Village, a place designed to enrich the lives of challenged youth in the areas of dynamic character and leadership development, physical fitness, social and educational advancement, and spiritual growth.
In 2013, Patriots special teams captain and wide receiver Matthew Slater was the recipient of this award. Fellow captain and defensive back Devin McCourty was recognized the following year. Both players wanted to learn what the village was about and decided to make a special visit on Monday, July 6.
The players traveled an hour and half from Gillette Stadium and through the back roads of Hubbardston, Mass. before arriving at the beautiful 302-acre village. After receiving a tour of the campus and learning the history of the village from the Burton family, McCourty and Slater were welcomed with a round of applause from more than 100 young men who attend the five-week summer session. Twenty-three children are accepted each year and each participant commits to attending the camp for seven years.
The late Ron Burton had a vision to develop a place where young men would be surrounded by beauty while learning four key values: love, peace, patience and humility. McCourty and Slater quickly saw these values put into action upon their arrival.
"You young men are so impressive in the time I've been able to spend with you," Slater said as he greeted the village during lunch. "The way you conduct yourselves, the way you carry yourselves, the things you value, the way you respect your elders, I really appreciate that. That's rare amongst young men today. We live in a world where that is not something that is held in high esteem. People value things, in my mind, that are less important, so I appreciate the way you guys conduct yourselves."
The theme for this year's Ron Burton Training Village is "Great Expectations." Both McCourty and Slater took some time following lunch to speak to the young men about their experiences growing up and how that theme related to their lives.
"If you don't believe in yourself, then it's going to be hard to achieve anything in this world," said Slater. "There have been plenty of times in my personal journey through life and my career in the National Football League, where plenty of people have doubted me. But it's important to maintain belief in yourself."
McCourty admired the commitment of the young men and spoke about the relationships they were building at the village.
"For you guys, all being here together, it might not be a team where you're going out and competing in a sports game, but you guys have now formed a brotherhood," McCourty said. "You're a team and you're competing in a game called life. You guys have a great opportunity, to not only push yourselves and to go further, but you have a brother next to you. You have a guy that you can push to make him better and he can push you to make you better. You can lean on him just like he can lean on you."
Following lunch, McCourty and Slater led the more than 100 campers out onto the field for some 'NFL Combine' related exercises. The campers divided into groups and rotated through a variety of stations, including the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, obstacle course and more. McCourty and Slater rotated through the stations, offering their advice and expertise to each group. The players even spent time running through the stations with the participants.
"I think the biggest thing is having the chance to be with those young men," said Slater following the visit. "Seeing the path that they're on and where they're headed is very exciting. It was great to go up there with Devin and spend the day with him and I was just very impressed with the way those young guys carry themselves."
McCourty was also moved by his experience and respected the campers' dedication.
"It was amazing being at the Ron Burton Training Village just to see how much work the kids were putting in and the understanding of why they were there," said McCourty. "I think a lot of us, as kids, would have just viewed it as time away, but you can tell that they all really saw it as an opportunity to better themselves and to be a part of something bigger than themselves."
From the moment McCourty and Slater stepped onto the campus of the Ron Burton Training Village, it was clear that Ron Burton's legacy continues to live on through his children, as the village continues to positively impact young men.
"The Burton family is doing an excellent job of carrying on their dad's legacy," McCourty said. "It was a blessing just to be a part of it."