MERIDEN — John Jenkins returned home on Friday to celebrate his 25th birthday and help raise money for a cause that is close to his heart, the Boys & Girls Club of Meriden.
After a group of 120 campers at Cuno Camp serenaded the New Orleans Saints’ nose tackle with a enthusiastic version of “Happy Birthday,” the club no doubt moved even deeper into that heart.
The 6-foot-3, 359-pounder, wearing a bucket hat and a Snoopy shirt, could do nothing but laugh.
Jenkins spoke for a few minutes about the importance of education to the campers and then he fielded questions.
“Are you in Madden 25?”
“Where did you work growing up?”
“McDonald’s, Target and American Eagle,” Jenkins proudly replied.
“How much money do you make now?” another camper yelled out.
Jenkins just laughed as Boys & Girls of Meriden Assistant Director Cesar Gonzales handled that one.
Gonzales, who has known Jenkins since he was a Cuno camper, he invited the famous alum to Cuno Camp on Friday afternoon as a prelude to Friday night’s “Never Forget Where You Came From” fundraiser at Ruby Tuesday’s at the Westfield Mall.
“It’s great when you can have a former member that has had the success that John has had and give that positive message to the kids now,” Gonzales said. “He’s a true inspiration for his hard work. Just being able to share that with our campers today is awesome and I hope this is something they will remember for years.”
Jenkins, who now resides in Boca Raton, Fla., said he was happy to be back in Meriden. It’s still very much home. His mother Maryann Baker still resides in the Silver City and he said he considers his offensive coordinator at Maloney, Meriden resident Giovanni Daniels, his father.
“It feels good to give back to a cause where I grew up and helped make me the man that I am,” Jenkins said. “The club kept me on a narrow path and made me the man that I am today with no baggage. It helped me stay out of trouble and stay focused.”
Jenkins said Meriden isn’t the easiest place to grow up.
“There aren’t a lot of outlets and kids need guidance,” Jenkins said. “Kids need a positive role model and a cause to be successful in life.
“For me growing up, it was tough for me because there was no one doing the things that I had done. Now coming back is a blessing for myself because I can show kids that there is a way as long as you stay focused and stay true to yourself.”
One person that helped keep Jenkins in line during his days at Maloney was Tyrone Abrahams, a Spartans assistant football coach at the time. On Friday, Abrahams accompanied Jenkins to Cuno Camp.
“Coach Rob Szymaszek deserved a lot of credit for John,” Abrahams said of the late Maloney head coach. “He saw something special in him and he took me aside and he told me to really work with John, and I did.
“He was extremely gifted. He only needed to be more disciplined. His work ethic was lights out. Good kid to coach. One of my all-time favorites.”
Abrahams is now a volunteer on the Windsor football staff. He still resides in Meriden.
“Watching John is like watching my own son out there,” Abrahams said. “As he got closer and closer to what he dreamed of, it was great to see him accomplishments.”
Jenkins said he considers Abrahams his uncle.
Jenkins said he isn’t sure how much money he will help raise for the Boys & Girls Club, but he wants people to come out and support the cause.
A coupon for Friday night’s event can be used all weekend at Ruby Tuesday’s.
Beyond that, who knows what sort of ripple effect Jenkins’ birthday homecoming will have.
“Hopefully, John will inspire one of our campers to do something great in their field of choice,” Gonzales said.
“He’s a true inspiration. This was a great day.”