There were no speeches or presentations. No players signing autographs for kids. No pictures of Nick and Terry Saban posing with each and every group that walked through the door.
The annual Nick’s Kids Giveaway Luncheon, what the coach always calls one of his favorite days of the year, didn’t happen this fall. Normally held the day before camp opens for the upcoming football season, it had to be canceled due to safety concerns during the ongoing pandemic.
Mind you, the funds were still distributed, albeit through the mail, as all obligations and promises were successfully met. Roughly $560,000 went out to more than 130 non-profit organizations, bringing the total disbursement to more than $9 million.
But the luncheon isn’t just about money.
“The biggest thing that we want to accomplish is to shake hands with the people who are there, hands on, helping the children, helping the families,” Terry Saban said. “We hand them a check, but the bigger thing is to look in their eyes and say ‘Thank you for what you do. Thank you for running these organizations. Thank you for helping these children.’
“It’s a celebration in giving, and what we give them, but more importantly what they are able to give the children and the families — and that’s what we missed this year.”
While the Sabans’ philanthropic efforts may best known for the massive 17 for 17 project, a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to build a house for a family in need for every national championship won by the Crimson Tide football team, the ongoing coronavirus outbreak has forced the Nick’s Kids Foundation to pivot in its approach.
It’s occurred on both ends.
For example, the bulk of its regular funds come through a popular golf outing in June at Old Overton Golf Club in Vestavia Hills. This year’s event was pared down with social-distancing guidelines enforced.
“How fortunate for us that Nick's participation with AFLAC filled in the gap for us and we stayed financially healthy, being able to fulfill all of our donation commitments as well as adding an additional $200,000 of support for Covid Relief,” Terry Saban explained.
The real difference has been its priorities.
Temporary Emergency Services, the United Way and food banks moved up toward the top of the list. The latter saw demand grow so significantly, and so quickly, that after the first few weeks of the pandemic they ran out of bags.
“I think we had to do was focus on people’s immediate life needs, with food in particular,” Terry Saban said. “We have continued to donate to local food banks because they have told us that that’s what the greatest need is.”
Meanwhile, the foundation has remained busy on numerous other fronts, and been involved in numerous ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Among them:
• Nick’s Kids donated $150,000 to the COVID Relief Fund through the United Way of Alabama, providing to hospital employees at DCH and St. Vincent’s as they continue to combat the coronavirus on a daily basis.
• $200,000 was pledged for the Tuscaloosa All-Inclusive Playground, which recently held a ground-breaking ceremony at Sokol Park. Although it’ll be open to children and families of all ages, it’ll also be inclusive for those with special needs and disabilities.
• Last year, Nick’s Kids saw its $100,000 lead donation toward building a training facility at the Tuscaloosa Juvenile Detention Center come to fruition with its grand opening. In hopes of decreasing the number of repeat offenders, residents can learn welding, plumbing, carpentry, electrical repair and auto maintenance, and even earn a GED (General Educational Development certification test).
The Nick’s Kids Foundation, named after the coaches’ father and has the motto "No man stands as tall as he who stoops to help a child,” is also in the process of planning this academic year’s annual Teacher Excellence Awards. It contributed $15,000 towards relief efforts following Hurricane Sally, plus supported the “boots on the ground” by donating to High Socks for Hope to assist with the recovery of the Lake Charles area following Hurricane Laura.
However, the ultimate showpiece for Nick’s Kids will eventually become what’s been dubbed “The Saban Center” in downtown. The current, spacious home of The Tuscaloosa News will be converted into a learning center focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.
Among the new tenants will be the Children’s Hands-On Museum (CHOM), the Tuscaloosa Public Library, the Tuscaloosa Children’s Theatre, and a community black-box theater, among other interactive, hands-on elements. A connecting public park will also be added along the Black Warrior River adjacent to the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater.
The Sabans themselves donated $1 million to the project that’s part of the City’s Elevate Tuscaloosa Initiative, with the Nick’s Kids Foundation making a $250,000 contribution.
"Terry and I could not be happier,” Nick Saban said when the announcement was made in December 2019.
Since then a lot has obviously changed, but not their commitment to making the state-of-the-art learning center a key part of the city landscape.
“Really, that what we do,” Terry Saban said. “That’s why Nick does. Coaching is teaching and you hope that when these young men leave we helped change their lives for the better, not just from being on successful winning teams, but having received an education.
“When (former U.S. Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice came and spoke to our team (this fall), that was her inspiring message: How do you change your families. How to you change generations of all families, not just black lives. She said the key is education. Our hope is that the Saban Center will stand as a symbol of if you want to have a better life, that’s the key: learning and education.”
Consequently, 2021 could make for a banner year for Nick’s Kids, depending on how things play out. Just having another Giveaway Luncheon would be a good start, plus one never knows when the 17 for 17 project could suddenly flip to 18 for 18.
The Saban Center, though, will add a legacy that goes deep into the community, and will help change lives.
“I believe that Nick and I are every bit as proud of the Saban Center as we are of the many national championships while here in Tuscaloosa,” Terry Saban said.