London & Kendrick bring cheer to real Superstars
NEW YORK -- Though Christmas was months away, it looked like Santa had paid an early visit to New York City's Incarnation Children's Center.
A John Cena action figure sat on the base of the TV set in the recreation room as some of the kids watched Kim Possible on The Disney Channel. Several trails of Lego blocks, PlayStation games, brushes, combs and GameBoys stretched in several different directions. But one distinct trail led to Gerald, a 12-year-old resident of ICC who was sitting on the couch. That trail started with the September 2007 issue of WWE Magazine with Triple H on the cover, passed through a Cena "Hustle. Loyalty. Respect." bracelet and ended at Gerald's feet, where a replica of one of the theatrical masks worn by former WWE Tag Team Champions Paul London & Brian Kendrick rested.
Days had passed since London and Kendrick surprised Gerald and the other children who live at the Center. But Gerald, who proudly sported red and blue Raw sweat pants, was still glowing from the visit.
"Paul London and Brian Kendrick were here! I couldn't believe it," he said. "They left us all sorts of stuff. We even rode in a limo with them. … It was great!"
Gerald is one of 22 children and young adults who live at The Incarnation Children's Center, a Manhattan-based residence exclusively for children born HIV-positive. Since 1989, ICC has been New York City's only skilled nursing facility that provides specialized care for children and adolescents living with HIV/AIDS. The ages of the kids range from 3 to 21 years-old. Some have lived at ICC practically their entire lives. Others are there because their parents are either deceased, too ill to care for them, or are struggling with their own demons. Some families are unable to handle caring for the children and seek ICC's help.
But the Center does not focus on gloom and doom. The nurses and administrators are like surrogate parents for the children and help them live with their disease. They try to provide a nurturing, positive environment and help children like Gerald live normal lives and enjoy everyday pleasures -- like WWE.
And ICC has a few loyal WWE fans. Gerald and his friends and fellow residents, Carl, 14, and Sam, 16, follow Raw and SmackDown every week and visit WWE.com daily. When Carl saw London and Kendrick walk through the doors of ICC, he couldn't believe his eyes and raced to tell the others about their special guests.
"He was so excited," said Paulette Salters, who helps coordinate therapeutic recreational activities at ICC. "At first, he and Gerald kind of conferred together like boys do, asking each other, ‘Is that them? Is that really them?' I was really impressed with how much the boys really knew about Brian and Paul. … Brian and Paul were so nice. They really took to the kids, and the kids really took to them."
London and Kendrick made sure the kids at ICC would always remember their visit. The duo shared some stories and left a box full of WWE action figures, T-shirts, and other paraphernalia for all the children.
Carl and Gerald, who idolize Rey Mysterio and Matt and Jeff Hardy, enjoyed quizzing London and Kendrick about their favorite matches. Sometimes the boys imagine that they are a tag team and dream about thrilling fans worldwide with breathtaking maneuvers, just like their heroes. When Carl told London and Kendrick that he wants to wrestle for WWE someday, they had a piece of advice for both him and his tag team partner.
"They told us not to perform what we see on TV at home," Gerald said. "That what they do in the ring is dangerous and that they are professionals who have trained for a long time to get to where they are. … And oh yeah, they said stay in school and make sure we get our education."
London and Kendrick made Carl feel so comfortable that he asked them whether he could get a ride in the stretch limousine that brought them to the Center. To Carl's surprise, they obliged, and he and several of the nurses and kids got a tour of their Washington Heights neighborhood in style.
"I've ridden in a limo before, but I'd never ridden in a limo with a famous person before," Carl said. "It was a great experience, seeing them [London & Kendrick] here."
Still, some of ICC's most loyal WWE fans didn't get the opportunity to see London and Kendrick. Angela, 10, blushes and smiles whenever she talks about John Cena. She was away at summer camp and bummed that she didn't get to meet the charismatic high-flyers. But she took comfort in that she didn't miss out on a visit from The Champ.
"Don't worry," she said. "Next time [WWE visits], my husband [Cena] will come and he'll take me out. He was just too busy this time."
While Angela dreams of someday meeting her "husband" face-to-face, Gerald, Carl and the other children of ICC take delight in a very real memory that will last a lifetime. London and Kendrick will also never forget their visit.
"I really enjoyed it," London said. "I hope we have a chance to return the next time we're in town."
London and Kendrick are Superstars, but the real Superstars are the children of The Incarnation Children's Center and the nurses and administrators who care for them. The kids live with a disease that many adults are unable to handle; some have experienced more misery at a young age than many people see in a lifetime.
But for a couple hours on a summer day, London and Kendrick helped the kids of ICC forget their troubles and put smiles on their faces. And they will remain eternally grateful.
"I can't say that there was a best part of the visit," Gerald said. "Everything was the best part! I enjoyed everything."
WWE.com's Bryan Robinson has been a volunteer at The Incarnation Children's Center since 2001.