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SALT LAKE CITY — One might think that Stevenson Sylvester’s life is already busy enough. The former NFL linebacker and University of Utah standout is active with his alumni organization, and he does speaking engagements with several NFL organizations throughout the fall (and addition to his role as a studio analyst on KSL TV). But what’s one thing, right? Sylvester organized his sixth-annual Shop with Sly event, partnering with the Utah football team to bring holiday joy — and presents — to kids in need. "I love to see people happy," Sylvester said. "We’re all brothers and sisters on this planet, and we’re helping each other out. "It lets them know that there are people out there who care about them. … There are a lot of good people out there willing to do good things, and to help each other out." It was an easy sell to head coach Kyle Whittingham, to take time away from the Utes’ Holiday Bowl preparations to spread a little Christmas cheer. "It was basically just asking coach Whitt," Sylvester said. "Coach Whitt was immediately like, 'Get us down there.'" Sylvester, along with former Utah teammates Matt Martinez and Dallin Rogers, has also co-founded Athlete Strong, a registered nonprofit that aims to help "love, lift and inspire our communities to be better" since opening around Christmastime in 2016.
The group has donated more than $25,000 in trees, gifts, money and meals to underprivileged children and families during the holiday season — and this year got busier. They also added a trip to Shriners Hospital for Children, which helps families of children who need life-changing medical surgery but don’t have the means to afford it. "We like Shriners Hospital for what they do for the kids," Sylvester said. "We know how important the holiday season is. People who can’t afford medical bills also can’t afford holiday things. So we’ll bring the gifts and give our time." Sylvester, along with several friends and the Weber State Spirit Squad, spent an afternoon with the children building gingerbread houses, decorating Christmas trees and making ornaments. "These kids are going through something like a lot of us can’t even imagine," said Lobdell, a Spirit Squad member. "Not one of them is in bad spirits. They are jumping around, rolling around and having the time fo their lives." It was an afternoon the children won’t ever forget. And a holiday season none of Santa’s helpers will forget, either.