Bears center Roberto Garza lent his celebrity to a pizza party Friday night at Waukegan High School hosted by an organization helping at-risk children and families.
Garza spent about two hours with the 200 or so participants at the Lake County Area Project gathering.
Contact information ( * required )
The community-based Lake County group spawned from the Chicago Area Project.
After getting the crowd to yell "Bears!" when he hit the stage, Garza led with a message to the young children and teenagers about the importance of education.
He said college should be a goal if the youths want to achieve their dreams.
"You know, guys, believe in yourself. You can achieve anything," said Garza, who used some Spanish during his appearance.
Garza noted how hard work took him from a small college to becoming an Atlanta Falcons draft pick in 2001. He's been with the Bears since 2005.
Lake County Area Project Executive Director Sandra Thompson spoke to the crowd briefly before Garza came onstage. She gave a brief overview of the nonprofit group and said it's in need of volunteers.
"I hope you all came out to have some fun," Thompson said to those assembled in Waukegan High's auditorium.
Working toward the prevention and eradication of juvenile delinquency is part of the mission statement of the nonprofit Lake County Area Project.
To get there, the group says it tries to empower local residents -- organized as a neighborhood action club -- to engage in preventive measures aimed at encouraging children of all ages to make positive choices.
Thompson said the organization began in Lake County in 2001 and mostly serves adults and children from Gurnee, Park City, Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion. She said the group recently completed a youth employment program.
Chicago-based CelebEvents Inc. assembled what formally was called the Pro Players Pizza Party in Waukegan. CelebEvents' Prinses Hemphill, who shared the stage with Garza, said the company has done similar pizza parties across the country.
"Roberto Garza was selected this year to host (in Waukegan) because of his great ability to connect with young people," Hemphill said.
Garza has been active in school visits on behalf of the National Football League's Play 60 initiative in an effort to fight childhood obesity.
His stops included Hanover Park and Bartlett in 2012.