At the sendoff event for the Washington, D.C., trip organized by the Cardinals and State Farm, the team’s entire rookie class and DeAndre Hopkins made an appearance. (Arizona Cardinals/Submitted)

As part of the state’s Civics Matters Arizona program, the Cardinals partnered with State Farm to send 241 students and 30 chaperone teachers on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C.

The students, who are entering grades 9-12, represented 46 Arizona schools, 20 school districts, 11 cities and four counties. Among those districts was the Tolleson Union High School District.

Amir Gil, an incoming senior at Westview High School, enjoyed getting to meet a lot of new people, but if he had to pinpoint one thing as his favorite part of the experience, he said it would be getting to see the numerous memorials featured throughout the nation’s capital.

“It was really like a scenic experience because we also got to see the Washington Monument across the lake,” said Gill, 17. “It was just cool to see all the history that’s in the area.”

During the trip to the nation’s capital, the group attended multiple workshops while also touring historical landmarks such as Arlington National Cemetery, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Capitol Hill and the Smithsonian National Museum.

They also visited the memorials honoring Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Samantha Ness, a history teacher at Copper Canyon High School, was one of the chaperones for the D.C. trip. While she had never been to the nation’s capital before, the trip wound up being more than she could have ever expected, and seeing those memorials was a highlight for her.

“Being able to see World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Lincoln Memorial right as the sun was going down was one of the most beautiful things,” Ness said. “I teared up at the Lincoln Memorial because it’s always been a dream of mine to see that. To be able to go and have the background knowledge on what those monuments represent, and then to see them just at dusk, was perfect.”

For Cardinals Chief People Officer Shaun Mayo, the initiative, which spawned from a conversation between team owner Michael Bidwell and Gov. Doug Ducey, fell perfectly in line with the three pillars of what the Cardinals try to be as an organization — a championship team on the field, a champion in the community, and an overall championship organization.

“It played right into our social justice initiatives,” Mayo said. “We know that a lot of things happen locally, and so it was a cool way to try to get students inspired about getting involved in their local communities to help make a positive change. A lot of that was the inspiration, our continuing commitment to the community and figuring out ways to utilize our assets to really do good in the community.”

For the trip, the Cardinals provided their team plane to transport the group to Washington, D.C. Mayo said putting the trip together and getting to see the response was incredibly rewarding.

Mayo said for many of the students on board, it was their first time having been on a plane. Others had never even been out of the state before.

“It is some of the most rewarding work that we do, is anytime we get an opportunity to really impact the community or impact the future,” he said. “It always feels great to be able to be a small part of hopefully making a positive difference in anyone’s life that we impacted. The work we do in the community is so important to the fabric of our organization that it’s just super, super rewarding.”

Jullysa Fox, an incoming senior at Tolleson Union High School, said getting to fly on the team’s plane was her first time ever having been on a plane.

“It was such a nice experience,” said Fox, 17. “They were so nice, they handed out some free goodies, and they provided us lunch on the plane — and they provided us dessert, too. So, it was just a nice experience.”

Mayo said he sees many of these students using this experience as a motivator to get involved in their communities.

“The relationships and the friendships that were formed, I believe, will last a lifetime,” he said. “I believe that this trip has inspired several of them to potentially get involved at a deeper level in their communities. … When I look at some of the feedback from the students, some of this probably changed their perspective, in terms of the role that they play in their local communities.”

The experience also featured some star-studded guests. At the send-off event at 44th Street Station, the team’s entire rookie class, as well as DeAndre Hopkins, made appearances. Mayo said the superstar wide receiver hung around with the students for about 30 or 45 minutes.

“We’re just excited to be able to provide that experience for folks and get them up close and personal with one of our players,” Mayo said. “He took all of the attention pages when he showed up to the events. I know they were super excited about it.”

Cory Brewer, an incoming senior at University High School, was impressed to see how involved in the community the Cardinals are. He is extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to go on the trip.

“They didn’t have to go work with their community, but they’re one of the few teams who does that,” said Brewer, 17. “They went out of their way to help the seventh and eighth grade through high school students instead of just the older community that may watch sports more. So, it’s really nice to see how involved they are with the Arizona community.”

Mayo said he is very appreciative of the sponsors for the event. Along with State Farm, Chicanos Por La Causa, Arizona Public Service, Raza Development Fund and Greater Phoenix Leadership all provided funding for the trip.

“We could not have done it without their help and support,” Mayo said.

Ness, who teaches ninth grade AP human geography and 10th grade world history, has received numerous messages asking if it will happen again. She is always an advocate for seeing resources poured into public education.

“This is what happens when states and local agencies and local professions come together and pour into education,” Ness said. “As you see, the students start to fall in love with something that they never even knew existed. When we start to pour back into public education, kids have better chances and they get experiences that can literally change their world.”

Not only is this something the Cardinals organization plans to do in the future, Mayo said he sees this as an annual event.

“I think our vision is that we can do this year after year and continue to impact close to 250 students and 30 teachers,” he said. “We have 288 seats on that plane, so I think the goal is to fill it up every year, take a group out, hopefully get them educated, interested, inspired, empowered, related to getting involved in the local community.

“That’s where we believe that change happens in each local community. Our goal is to fill (the team plane) up every single year and do this over and over and over again as long as possible.”