They play a rough game outside, but on a recent day, inside they were smiling and gentle with the children at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara’s Pediatrics unit. And they made the hospitalized children smile a lot. In fact, San Jose Earthquakes stars Shea Salinas and Jason Hernandez seemed like little kids themselves as they visited with some of the hospital’s most fragile youngsters.
“It’s really cool to see the way the kids respond to us,” said Hernandez, as he walked from room to room. Team officials carting a red wagon filled with Earthquakes souvenirs and the hospital’s Childlife Specialists trailed behind the 29-year-old defender.
Neither of the two players are parents themselves, but they seem to “have a way” with kids.
“A lot of these children probably don’t know who we are, but we come in with our uniforms and smiles and some gifts and they respond,” said Hernandez.
Each room visit started with a few high-fives and some chat back and forth and ended with the soccer players giving the children soccer gifts, including oversized Earthquakes sunglasses, and posing for photos with the child. Each family received a photo: two grinning soccer players with a smiling child between them, all wearing the goofy blue sunglasses.
The visit to Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Clara pediatrics unit was one of the 80 public appearances Earthquakes players make. Salinas and Hernandez are often paired up for these visits.
“I think we’re blessed to be professional athletes,” said Salinas, a 26-year-old midfielder for the team. “And as athletes, we have a chance to bring positive thoughts and smiles to kids’ faces.”
For the kids, it’s a change of pace.
“Here’s this celebrity coming to visit them,” said Childlife Specialist Emily Heffelfinger. She and her colleague Wendy Fought provide personal support for the hospitalized children at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara. Of the athlete visit, “it’s someone from the outside showing that they care for the children.”
Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara and San Jose Medical Centers also sponsor the “Get Earthquake Fit” program, where team members and physicians go to underserved schools and provide nutrition and exercise tips to children.