After spell in NFL, Woodlawn grad seeks to warm children's hearts and feet

If Tavon Mason were among the recipients of his foundation's Character Slipper Drive, he'd hope to wear the likeness of a surly, red-bandana'd Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle on his feet.

"I'm a big Raphael fan," said Mason, a former New York Jets wide receiver. "He was the one that had the attitude … and at the end of the day he's going to have to save everybody."


Mason doesn't say he's trying to save anybody, but he is trying to help. A Baltimore native who was an All-Metro selection at Woodlawn and played at Virginia before joining the Jets as an undrafted NFL free agent in 2002, he started the Tavon Mason Loves the Kids Foundation upon his return home. He wanted to help kids stay active and stress the importance of education, but he also sought a way to comfort those in the community who needed comforting.

In 2012, he visited the University of Maryland Medical Center Children's Hospital and decided he wanted to collect slippers for kids — newborns to 18-year-olds — who face long hospital stays.


"I know how it can be when you go into a hospital and you get those ugly socks with the stickies on them," Mason said. "I wanted to give them something where they can smile. They're in a situation they don't want to be in, that their parents don't want them to be in."

The drive, which began in late August, will run through May. A large donation box is set up at the Big House of Bounce at Reisterstown Road Plaza in Baltimore, and businesses can email the foundation ( to set up their own box.

Slippers are "a very functional, very beneficial thing to drive for," said Shannon Joslin, the Maryland children hospital's child life manager. "Hospital floors are cold. ... Kids come into the hospital sometimes unexpectedly, and they don't have anything warm and comfortable for their feet."

Joslin said Mason's foundation arrives with enough slippers for the children to have their pick. Last year, there were enough left over that patients are using slippers to complete Halloween costumes.

"The beauty of the slipper drive is they get such a good variety that they get to find something that fits their personality," she said. "Whether it's a color, or a character, kids get to pick it out, but that's an important thing. So many other things in a hospital, they don't have a choice."

Some of the kids, and their parents, get a kick out meeting Mason, too.

In 2002 and 2003, Mason played all eight of the Jets' preseason games, but didn't make the regular-season roster either year. When he returned home — Mason lives in Baltimore County — people were excited to talk to him about being in the NFL. He remembered what it was like meeting professional athletes when he was a kid — the experience was almost always a disappointment.

"It's just the connection, man," said Mason, who's in his second year as an assistant coach at Stevenson. "Even when I speak to different young athletes, my biggest thing was to be touchable and be open. Athletes tend to get that stigma of we're stuck up, we're arrogant."


That first year, Mason said he collected "a couple hundred" slippers and delivered them to one hospital. Last year, the number was 1,000 and he visited four Maryland hospitals. This year, he's aiming for 1,500 slippers and is going out of state — the foundation plans to donate to the Children's National Medical Center in Washington and the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, Va. His dream is to expand up the East Coast to the New York City area.

Mason — along with foundation partners Melisa Brown, Erika Buffaloe and Connie Pincione — plans to attend each drop-off, handing over footwear bearing images of Disney princesses and super heroes in exchange for smiles.

"I always said if I had the opportunity to do something like this, I wanted to be there," Mason said.