Robert Griffin III was an honorary guest and speaker, introducing Baylor alumnus Isaiah Austin, at the tenth annual House Inc.'s National Capital A Cinderella Ball, held at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Attending The House, Inc.'s National Capital A Cinderella Ball on Sunday, Robert Griffin III honored former Baylor basketball standout Isaiah Austin as part of a celebration for children living with disabilities.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III initially came to The House, Inc.'s National Capital A Cinderella Ball to support and introduce his friend Isaiah Austin, a Baylor graduate with an inspiring life story.
But after the special event, which honored military-connected children living with a disability or life threatening illness, Griffin III admitted he was blessed to have seen so many other inspiring stories celebrated Sunday in the dining room of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.
"You can read about The House, Inc., and what they do and read about all the programs that they run, but to actually sit there and hear them talk about it, go back to what kids are writing in sixth grade and see how it transformed their lives and see the people that they've become… it truly is special," Griffin III said. "I came to kind of have the honor of introducing Isaiah and walked away with a greater understanding and appreciation for what The House is doing for these kids in D.C. and Northern Virginia."
Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the ball and the establishment of The House, Inc. Student Leadership Center, a nationally recognized youth development program and provider of out-of-school programs for pre-teens and teens in the Greater Washington, DC., area, founded by its president, Helen McCormick.
The students, many of whom attended and programmed the event, began the day by cheering on some of their peers with disabilities, walking a dignified red carpet and flanked by U.S. Marines, who raised swords over their arrival.
Red carpet walks by a small group of celebrities invited, including Griffin III, Austin, "Shark Tank's" Robert Herjavec and "Empire" actor and singer Jussie Smollett, followed the kids' ceremonial entrance.
"As these students are coming to us Monday through Friday we felt it was very important for them to do a public service project," McCormick said. "We designed purposefully a platform where they reach their peers."
That much was clear inside, where about 400 people packed a decorated dining room and conversed over lunch with families and Marines, learning more about each child's struggles and strength.
Griffin III -- attending the event on behalf of the Redskins and his own Family Of 3 foundation -- made a few remarks, relating his own military background growing up, before introducing the guest of honor and "No Excuses Award Winner" Isaiah Austin.
A former standout for Baylor's basketball team, Austin battled numerous physical hardships through his life, primarily experiencing blindness in his right eye. Just a few days before the NBA Draft, he was diagnosed with Marfan's syndrome, preventing him from playing professionally.
He was still invited to last year's draft and he relayed the obstacles in his life to the crowd, offering a redemptive and fulfilling message about his journey.
"It means a lot to my heart," Austin said. "The kids in that ballroom are just amazing individuals. I just look up to them. A lot of people say that they look up to me, but it's really those types of kids that keep me pushing through and helping to inspire other people of my story. I just appreciate them and the love that they give me and hopefully they can take in something that I said and it encourages them to push through their struggles."
It was especially personal for Griffin III, who had met Austin as a budding star at Baylor and has now seen him grow into a role model for so many.
"I just wanted to be able to tell everyone and tell him, in front of everyone, the appreciation that I have for what he's gone through and how he's handled it," Griffin III said. "And just the fact that he has been a good friend and I've had the opportunity to see him grow from just a kid meeting the quarterback at Baylor to the man that he is today."
"Robert connected to the mission and movement of The House Student Leadership Center today," said Todd McCormick, Executive Director of The House, Inc. "Together, so much was given to students where opportunities once lagged behind them."
Helen then called up some of the standout students from the program and awarded them each $1,000 scholarships for their achievements since beginning their time at The House, Inc.
Smollett finished the afternoon with a couple of songs, which primed the room for the dancing portion of the event, a prom for those that might not have ever received the chance to attend one.
"You have to have pieces that connect, to help us tell our story and our reach," Helen said.
"The part of inspiration and motivation helps my students keep moving for the finish line," she said. "That finish line may be just getting ready to finish a grade. It could be [a job]. We knew the power of influence matters, and when [Griffin III and Austin] stand up and say, 'We've got your back House'… they're going to go home tonight and remember, they're going to get up in the morning and say, 'I can go to school today.'"
For Griffin III, who recently became a father to his daughter Reese, events like these, honoring children that are fighting through struggles, is particularly meaningful.
"To come to this after having a kid does mean more," Griffin II said. "I'm a military kid, military brat, and a lot of these kids are military kids with disabilities, and it's unfortunate for them, but it's also something special for them to be able to push through and go catch their dreams… You want to show them that love and show them they're not forgotten."