CSICF Annual Appeal Letter

The Origin

In 1979 the NFL mandated that teams hire addiction recovery specialists to address the rampant substance abuse among NFL players.Coach Sam Rutigliano of the Cleveland Browns was the first head coach to comply with this policy and to support his players when he hired Cleveland Clinic physician Dr. Gregory Collins who specialized in sports psychiatry and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Coach Rutigliano took additional steps to help his players by starting a lifesaving, anonymous support group led by Browns players known as the Inner Circle. When Sam Rutigliano first developed the Inner Circle in 1979, he could not have predicted where it might lead, what it might become, and that it might someday thrive outside the football arena.

In 1984, Coach Rutigliano left the Browns and later became the head coach at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. While he was no longer with the Cleveland Browns, Coach Sam sustained the relationships and friendships he had built in Cleveland, particularly with the players who participated in the Inner Circle. Coach Sam, a man who had moved his family eighteen times to thirteen different cities during his football life, maintained a special and lifelong connection to the city and the people of Cleveland, Ohio, believing that one day he would return to this great city

The Return

Coach Sam finished his professional coaching career in 2006 and returned to Cleveland, Ohio. When he returned, he observed a troubling trend. Literacy growth, particularly for young children in at-risk communities, was under attack, and this battle served as a catalyst for far more dangerous behaviors as children grew older. Coach Sam wanted to help, so he reached out to his old friend Dr. Gregory Collins. In 2009, the team created a new Inner Circle, Coach Sam’s Inner Circle Foundation, a program designed to integrate literacy and wellness for at risk children in Cleveland. For ten years, Coach Sam’s Inner Circle Foundation has responded to the literacy needs of at risk children in Cleveland schools, presenting curriculum to address their literacy, personal development, and health and fitness needs and partnering with different agencies, community partners, and foundation supporters to ensure the students in the program achieve their literacy milestones.

The Future

During the 2019-2020 school year, on the 10th anniversary of Coach Sam’s Inner Circle Foundation, our foundation will celebrate a new name, Coach Sam’s Scholars. When the original Inner Circle was first founded in 1979, forty years ago, the goal was to provide support to those who were struggling. In 2019-2020, although our mission and name have changed, this goal remains the same. We are convinced that we are making an immediate impact, saving young lives in the Cleveland community. Coach Sam believes that while he has experienced exhilarating wins in his professional life, his greatest win will be achieved when the children of Cleveland realize their greatest potential. In our efforts, there has always been one constant: The city of Cleveland has been courageous and unwavering in striving to reach this goal.

On our 10th anniversary, we realize now more than ever that we must continue to support our young scholars, and we too will continue to be courageous and unwavering in our efforts to reach and support more children. Please join us in supporting our mission and making a difference in the lives of Coach Sam’s Scholars.

Create an Immediate and Lasting Impact

Support Coach Sam’s Inner Circle Foundation’s Annual Appeal

Mail Your Tax Deductible Contribution to:

Coach Sam’s Inner Circle Foundation
23715 Mercantile Rd
Suite #217A
Beachwood, OH 44122

or send us an email at: info@innercirclefoundation.org or call (216) 223-3020.

Coach Sam’s Big Mission continues, bringing dynamic, life changing literacy resources to Cleveland’s children. Our mission originated with a big idea, a fearless dream that one day Our Children Can Soar. What Do You Do With An Idea? You work to grow it, protect it, fight for it until it takes flight and becomes a reality, until you see the dream alive throughout our city. Coach Sam’s vision started with Something Beautiful, the children of Cleveland, and our mission continues to grow. Ten years ago, Coach Sam Rutigliano told our Aiming Higher students that on The Day You Begin to pursue your dream, you can make a real difference in the world. We believed then, and continue to believe that Coach Sam’s program can and will make a difference in this Great Big Life. By providing literacy resources to at risk children in the Cleveland schools, each Radiant Child in Coach Sam’s Aiming Higher Program will receive the critical literacy skills to create a promising life. This Is It! Life is a masterpiece, and each of our aspiring young scholars, the artist, creating his or her moment to soar. Join Coach Sam’s Inner Circle Foundation to ensure that all of Cleveland’s children soar.

Meet Members of Coach Sam’s Team

Julie Baker,
Tutor M.Ed.

Tutoring with Coach Sam’s program has given me and my fellow tutors the opportunity to provide high quality literacy enrichment to Cleveland City School students. The importance of a good education is vital to the success of individual students and to the success of their community. I see amazing potential in each child I tutor. It is my goal to empower those students to discover and pursue their interests and develop a lifelong interest in reading.

Dr Linda Bradley,
Cleveland Clinic
Coach Sam’s Board Member

It’s important for me to be a part of something that is bigger than myself and improves the lives of others. Many years ago, I benefited from the generosity of countless individuals who contributed money or in kind opportunities that made it possible for me to attend summer camps or experience a semester of Saturday enrichment science classes for several years. These experiences helped me to become the physician I am today. Being a board member of Coach Sam’s allows me to give back and help others reach success. Our Annual Appeal helps raise needed funds for our Coach Sam’s kids to  exceed expectations and thrive academically by partnering in a rigorous extracurricular school program that we fund.

Electronic Merchant Systems
Principal Funder

Electronic Merchant Systems loves this town and its people. Cleveland has been our home since we began in 1988, and during that time we have supported and continue to support many charitable causes. None are so near and dear to our hearts as Coach Sam’s Inner Circle Foundation. The teachers and tutors at the Inner Circle Foundation work directly with the future of this great city. We love seeing the smiles on the faces of the children they serve and hearing about their achievements in the classroom and beyond. EMS is happy to support such a noble cause and proud to be affiliated with the great people at Coach Sam’s Inner Circle.

Aiming Highers literacy component is designed to include “deep learning” concepts to foster the “reading to learn” skills needed in fourth grade and beyond. The program is built to develop the whole child by balancing academics with enjoyable and engaging personal development programs and physical fitness sessions. We concentrate on the whole child by engaging at risk children in three multi-faceted components to promote literacy, personal development and health and fitness as the platform upon which intellectual developments can flourish.

Aiming Higher is currently in operation in multiple Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools with plans to expand into more CMSD schools in the near future. Each program location works with approximately 24 students in the 3rd grade.

Third grade is a milestone year when third graders take the Ohio Achievement Test to be assessed for fourth grade readiness. The children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”. Our Aiming Higher literacy tutoring program helps students develop academically in the areas of reading, writing, and oral communication.

Physical fitness and wellness support scholastic achievement. We help children redirect their energy by participating in team and group activities, playing collaboratively for a common purpose. Our health and fitness component:

• Reinforces an active lifestyle
• Teaches the benefits, values, and ethics of competition
• Models the social skills necessary to adapt to a group or collaborative environment
• Provides personal growth opportunities

Aiming Higher helps sharpen cognitive skills and prepare students for fourth grade academic achievement through:

  • Reading aloud and independent and textbook reading
  • Writing in response to reading
  • Critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration
  • Personalized assistance and guidance. Our literacy programming offers 72 additional hours of reading time per semester, and it occurs twice per week for 120 minutes for 24 weeks per year
  • Exposure to great literature. We include over 175 classic books ranging from 1st grade to 4th grade reading levels, aligning with and enhancing the school curriculum
  • Journaling and discussion

Through exposure to community leaders and resources, personal development helps students connect learning with their realities and opportunities. Our personal development opportunities promote health, vitality, and socialization by:

  • Connecting children with successful community role models
  • Exposure to community resources
  • Nurturing health, socialization, and coping skills

Aiming Higher is promoting economic recovery in Cleveland by facilitating the education and training of our young people. 


of 4th graders living in poverty lack the reading skills necessary for academic success.

3-6 PM

23% of Ohio children are unsupervised after school for an average of 7.43 hours per week*. Participating in the Aiming Higher program reduces the likelihood that children will engage in risky or dangerous behavior, especially during unsupervised hours after school. 

*Source: America After 3PM, 2014

What are Greater Cleveland children facing?

Nationally, children are struggling to reach adulthood prepared for higher education, employment, and stable family life. The young people of Greater Cleveland not only face the same challenges as other children and adolescents, but also face the difficulties of extreme poverty that affect every member of their families.

According to the State of Ohio Report Card, there is a 66% graduation rate for our largest school system in Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. 

Catching up with Justice

Justice Cameron Gray
Justice Cameron Gray
Justice Cameron Gray
A comic by Justice
Justice Cameron Gray is a star at creating his own comic strips. He is currently a fourth grader at Jamison Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio. Justice loves his school, his friends, and his family, and is proud  of his close connection with his three brothers and one sister.

Last year in third grade, Justice was one of our exemplary students in the Aiming Higher program through Coach Sam’s Inner Circle Foundation. When Justice first arrived at the beginning of the year, he lacked confidence in reading and writing. He wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect of reading books.

As the school year progressed, Justice developed a strong relationship with one of our tutors, Vanessa Pasiadis, who quickly recognized, embraced, and utilized his love of comic books, cartoons, and graphic novels in her lesson plans. Vanessa even organized a “comic book day” for all the students in the Aiming Higher program and brought in different genres of comics and magazines for all the kids to experience.

Vanessa recalls, “It touched my heart when I met Justice last year. His eyes were wide with wonder. He was respectful, and he expressed an eagerness to learn from day one. It was a pleasure to help him become more confident with his reading and creativity through our Aiming Higher year together.”

Recently, Vanessa jumped at the chance to meet with Justice again on the playground at Jamison Elementary to reminisce about their time spent together in the Aiming Higher Program.

“As his tutor, it felt hugely gratifying when Justice shared how he started to prefer reading to watching television after his third grade year. He remembered progressing in his reading and writing skills as we worked with his group. He also remembered having fun listening to his most memorable book, Lucky Beans by Becky Birtha.”

As a team, we are so proud and thrilled that Justice continues to thrive and pursue his passions in fourth grade and beyond!

The Value of Your Contribution 

If you contribute in the amounts set forth below, we are able to do the following: 


Fund new books each year for our students, many of which are given to the children to keep at the end of the year. 


Provide support for up to 24 third grade students in each school that we serve. 


Sponsor one of the three innovative components of our Aiming Higher program: literacy, personal development, and health and fitness. 

$1,001-$5,000 ACADEMIC ALLY

Help to pay staff to maintain the high level of programming we provide in each school we serve. 


Help expand our mission to bring our successful program to more schools and students who need our help. 

or send us an email at: info@innercirclefoundation.org or call (216) 223-3020.

Or send via mail:

Coach Sam’s Inner circle Foundation
23715 Mercantile Road, Suite #217A,
Beachwood, Ohio 44122

Donate and Make a Difference

The goal of this multi-faceted program is to aid in the development of a well-rounded child by developing the necessary skills to succeed in school and beyond.
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