Justin Tuck‘s 6’4″ frame may make for an imposing defensive end, but it turns out the New York Giant‘s heart is as big as his body.
Tuck and his wife Lauran launched R.U.S.H. for Literacy five years ago. The program provides new books to low-income youth in three states.
“We felt that kids and education were something we would be passionate about for the rest of our lives,” Tuck, 30, tells PEOPLE.
As the couple prepare for this year’s charity fundraiser — the annual Tuck’s Celebrity Billiards Tournament, held May 30 at Slate NYC — we spoke to the author and Super Bowl champ about the importance of avoiding reading’s “summer slide” and learned some happy news — a sibling for 3-year-old son Jayce is on the way in June!
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PEOPLE: Tell us a little about your charity and why you and your wife decided to start it. Why are New York, New Jersey and Alabama are the states the program benefits?
Justin: My wife Lauran and I started Tuck’s R.U.S.H. for Literacy in 2008 to encourage children to READ, UNDERSTAND, SUCCEED, and HOPE. Tuck’s R.U.S.H. for Literacy is committed to raising funds to donate books and reading materials to support children in the New York, New Jersey, and Central Alabama communities — those are communities that have supported us and it feels great to be able give back.
Furthermore, we provide organizations with grants to further serve youth and to extend our impact. We believe that education is an equalizer, and literacy is the foundation of education. Tuck’s R.U.S.H. for Literacy is partnered with All Stars Helping Kids, who provide fiscal and program oversight; it’s a model that has proved very helpful in the early years of our philanthropy.
PEOPLE: You’re focusing on summer reading loss — what is that, and why is it so important to keep kids reading while they’re on summer break?
Justin: While more affluent children have ample access to summer enrichment programs, low-income youth lack access to the same resources, leading to summer learning loss. Also called the “summer slide,” summer learning loss is estimated to account for as much as 85 percent of the reading achievement gap. Not only is literacy fundamental to future success, but keeping a student’s mind engaged with summer reading is a simple and effective way to ensure that they start the school year prepared.
We are working with Scholastic on this new initiative, using their specially-designed summer reading packs. The comprehensive packs include five books, a reading journal, activity sheets, and online resources for students, teachers, and parents.
PEOPLE: You’re hosting a charity event Memorial Day weekend. Can you tell us a little about it?
Justin: On May 30th, we will be hosting our fifth annual Celebrity Billiards Fundraiser. It is a fun night out in New York City — putting a spotlight on literacy and education while simultaneously raising money to continue our program and grant-making.
We have had amazing support from celebrities across the entertainment industry, including our emcee Anthony Anderson, John Legend, Vivica A. Fox, and Cedric the Entertainer. My teammates from the New York Giants have also been large supporters; and we have sponsors that have been with us since the beginning. It’s inspiring to see everyone being so generous with their time and money.
Justin: I have so many fond memories from my childhood — growing up in Alabama with my mother, father, brother and five sisters. There was never a dull moment. A second book is definitely in the works!
PEOPLE: What’s the funniest thing your son Jayce has done lately? With the Giants heading back, what does he think about what Dad does for work?
Justin: Jayce turned 3 in February and he is so much fun — he likes to “remix” songs. For example, he changes the words to songs like “Wheels on the Bus” to incorporate dinosaurs. He’s got a great spirit and imagination, and he’s Daddy’s biggest fan!
Lauran and I are also very excited to be expanding our family. She is due in June with our second child — Jayce can’t wait to be a big brother!
— Sarah Michaud