The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation held its annual Kickoff Gala in the Fidelity Investments Clubhouse at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday night. As part of the program, Robert Kraft presented the eighth annual Ron Burton Community Service Award to nose tackle Vince Wilfork for his charitable work, including his efforts to fund diabetes research. Wilfork, who lost his father to diabetes and lost his mother just months later, gave an emotional acceptance speech to the 600 attendees.
The Ron Burton Community Service Award is presented annually to the player that best embodies the qualities of Burton, who was the first player drafted by the Patriots and was known for his commitment to the community.
The Kickoff Gala is the signature fundraising event for the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, which in 2010 will focus on cancer awareness, screening and prevention. The event was attended by the entire Patriots roster.
Below are comments from Vince Wilfork immediately after he received the award.
2010 RON BURTON COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARD WINNER VINCE WILFORK
AUGUST 31, 2010
Q: Give us a sense of what is going through your mind? Making a difference in the community, what does that mean to you?
VW: That's the only way you can give back. The first thing I thought about was my parents and it was like I was looking right at them in the crowd. We all do things not expecting to get anything in return. There are a bunch of guys on this team that deserve this award and I am just happy ... but everybody does a lot of things in the community for the Patriots or for their own [charities]. It is not just me, it's everybody and I am going to accept the award on all of our behalf.
Q: Was this a surprise to you?
VW: Yes, I never look for anything in return. Things I do and my wife does, we do out of the kindness of our heart and we do it for the community. I knew what it was like growing up to not have anything and to be struggling and to grow up poor. I had both parents, but I know how it feels to grow up with both parents out of work and not knowing where your next meal is going to come from. I was forced to live without two parents for my grownup years. Ever since I've been 20 or 21 [years old], I haven't had a parent. I deal with that every day.
Q: Being able to give back has to be rewarding on the inside...
VW: It's priceless. It is more than money. All it is, is time. We are blessed to be in the situation that we are in, being able to give back even if it is financial or even just a face. A kid looking at us as a celebrity or a famous person, to brighten up kids and even parents, to brighten up their faces is my gift, not an award, but this is a hell of an award. I think anybody on this team would want to have this award because it is a big deal. Like I said, I do things out of the kindness of my heart because I know how hard it is for poor people to grow up the way that they are. That's why I do this.
Q: Is winning this award kind of making the best out of a bad situation?
VW: My parents always pushed me to be the best I could be. Even if they were still here I think I would be doing the same thing. Diabetes runs in my family. High blood pressure runs in my family. That's something big in African American families. I always wanted to do something about it. Even if my father was here, I would still be in the same [place] I am in now. I am trying to find a way to him.