For a coach in the National Football League, today and tomorrow are often inseparable, the hours are so long. There was a time when Charlie Weis preferred to relax during his free time, but that changed two summers ago when he nearly died of complications from gastric bypass surgery. It was then that the Patriots' 48-year-old offensive coordinator realized that neither today nor tomorrow is promised.
The experience put things into perspective for Weis, who decided to stop putting off founding a nonprofit organization aimed at helping children such as his daughter, Hannah, and young adults affected by autism and global delays. The brush with death helped make Weis a new man immediately and Hannah & Friends a reality last spring, when Charlie and his wife, Maura, made the first donation.
"We had talked about it, but we kept putting it off," Weis said this week. "Then we sat down and said, `I very easily could have died, and what good would we have done?' My wife sat me down and said, `The time is now.' If we learned nothing else, it was that you shouldn't be waiting to do good."
"Coaches for Hannah" did well Monday night; the benefit dinner for Hannah & Friends, held at the Capital Grille in Chestnut Hill, raised more than Weis's goal of $25,000. It sold about 100 tickets (at $250 each), Weis estimates, plus three items in a silent auction (a pair of framed Tom Brady and Jake Delhomme jerseys, a set of Patriots and Panthers helmets autographed by Bill Belichick and Carolina coach John Fox, and the use of a
Patriots assistant coaches Romeo Crennel, Brian Daboll, Jeff Davidson, Josh McDaniels, Pepper Johnson, Eric Mangini, Dean Pees, and Dante Scarnecchia, and ex-Patriots Gino Cappelletti and Tim Fox all were in attendance. (Belichick had another commitment but sent his donation.)
"It was cozy, maybe a little tight, but I don't think anyone felt uncomfortable," said Weis, who before dinner recognized each of the coaches and his wife. "The Capital Grille picked up the tab for the whole night, and I don't think anyone complained about the food. What a wonderful thing they did. All we did was tip the staff. For our first major function, it wasn't 500 people, but I was happy with the way it turned out."
Maura Weis is the chair of the board of directors for Hannah & Friends, with Charlie serving as the secretary and treasurer. Brady, Fox, and New York Giants vice president of medial services Ronnie Barnes also sit on the board.
Hannah Weis is the inspiration. "Hannah is really the key player in all of this," Weis said. "She's been fighting an uphill battle since before she was born."
Hannah was diagnosed with a deadly kidney disease two months before birth, and doctors recommended abortion. Two months after she was born, one of her kidneys had to be removed.
The Weises celebrated Hannah's ninth birthday Wednesday. She has a form of Pervasive Development Disorder and suffers from global delays. "The first couple of years, everything seemed to be OK," Weis said. "At about 2, 2 1/2, things started to stick out."
Hannah's verbal and social skills are impaired. The family is learning sign language. "Trust me, she makes a lot of noise," Weis said. "Making noise is not an issue. But let's just say words are a lot tougher for Hannah."
It's the mission of Hannah & Friends to make life easier for others like her and their families. The proceeds from the event went to "Hannah's Helping Hand," a program that provides grants for needy families of special needs children in New England so they can purchase things such as bicycles and fences. "Things that some people take for granted because they don't have kids with special needs," Weis said.
The Weises' long-term goal is to build a farm in South Carolina -- complete with a petting zoo, riding program, and job opportunities -- for Hannah (when she turns 18) and others with autism and global delays. The Weises have a summer home near Myrtle Beach, S.C., and plan to shop for property when they vacation in June.
The first fund-raiser for the farm is the Hannah & Friends
"I probably still wouldn't have done it if not for Maura slapping me in the face -- figuratively -- and telling me, `Honey, look what could have happened,' " Weis said. "We don't want to be living for tomorrow. Let's live for today.' "
To reserve a team for the celebrity golf classic (foursomes begin at $4,000), call Rex Wicker at 843-237-3453. For more information about Hannah & Friends, to apply for grants, or to make an online, tax-deductible donation, visit www.HannahandFriends.org.