By Danielle Beurteaux
Jared Landaw speaks with reverence about the recently renamed MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home to the New York Jets and the New York Giants. “It’s amazing to step on that field,” he says.
||Jared Landaw: A mentoring relationship can only be built by spending time together|
But Landaw isn’t a pro football player—he’s the chief operating officer of a hedge fund and the co-founder of the Gridiron Games. The Gridiron Games are an annual event—the next is November 5—for kids involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, a citywide mentorship program founded in 1904 and now serving more than 3,000 kids.
Landaw, 46, chief operating officer and general counsel of New York–based activist fund Barington Capital Group, started volunteering 20 years ago and has been on the board of trustees since 2003. He co-founded the Gridiron Games in 1995 when a fellow volunteer gained access to the Giants’ previous home, Giants Stadium. More than 100 kids—called Littles—spend the day with their adult mentors—Bigs—at the stadium (formerly known as New Meadowlands). “Our Littles come from tough inner-city neighborhoods, but they are the most kind, pleasant and appreciative kids,” says Landaw. “It’s a beautiful opportunity for them to spend a day playing at the stadium with their adult mentors, and I think they realize how special that is.”
The Littles get coaching from a pro player and play football on the field. They also get a stadium tour and have lunch in one of the VIP clubs, where former NFL players talk with the kids. For past Gridiron Games, Joe Namath, Carl Banks, Stephen Baker and Sean Landeta have all volunteered their time. “The kids’ eyes are the size of saucers,” says Landaw. In the afternoon, New York law firms take to the field for fundraising 5-on-5 touch football games, with the winning team taking home the Gridiron Games trophy.
Above all, the day is a time for Bigs and Littles to strengthen their connection. “A successful mentoring relationship can only be built by spending time together, building trust and getting to know each other,” says Landaw.
Landaw is what being a volunteer is all about, says Hector Batista, executive director and chief executive of BBBS of NYC. “For our kids to be exposed to the Gridiron Games is pretty incredible,” he says. “Jared is extremely involved, and he’s raised over $1 million since its creation.”
Landaw says studies show that kids involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, will develop better self-esteem, get along better with their families and are more likely to stay in school. That ties in with the message the footballers have for the kids at the Gridiron Games.
Most of all, Landaw says, he hopes kids leave the Gridiron Games with big smiles and memories of a great day spent with their Big Brother or Big Sister. “It’s a real miracle day for the children in our programs,” says Landaw.