While the players we met at the 2022 Senior Bowl are getting ready for the next stage of their careers, some of them took time out of their busy schedules to bring smiles to the faces of kids who need it most.
These visits featured: 🏈 Perrion Winfrey of Oklahoma 🏈 Cameron Thomas of SDSU 🏈 Leon O’Neal of Texas A&M 🏈 Braxton Jones of Southern Utah 🏈 Matt Waletzko of North Dakota 🏈 Sterling Weatherford of Miami University 🏈 Jordan Silver of Arkansas 🏈 Dameon Pierce of Florida 🏈 Tycen Anderson of Toledo 🏈 Chris Paul of Tulsa
“The visit was so much fun! Hands down the highlight of my week!”
Chris Paul, Tulsa Football
It’s always an honor to work with athletes at any point in their athletic journey, but it’s extra special to witness the next generation – days before one of the biggest moments in their lives – make an impact in such a meaningful way.
Unsurprisingly, the feedback we received from our hospital partners was nothing short of amazing.
“I just wanted to send you a quick thank you for helping recruit our amazing guests today. Matt, Jordan, and Sterling were so fun and really great sports. We were all truly impressed with their acting, drawing, and sculpting skills! Please let them know how appreciative we are that they took the time to play a game with us and answer some questions [about playing football].”
Leslie Scott, Child Life Specialist at Children’s Wisconsin
Another thank you to the Senior Bowl for making AFH a part of their offerings to players in February. We like to think it goes a long way!
Najee Harris is Making an Impact Off the Football Field
What’s most impressive about Steelers’ Running Back Najee Harris isn’t just his unbelievable rookie season in the NFL – including his 2021 Pro Bowl selection, PFWA All-Rookie Team and finishing in the top 4 of rushing yards league-wide – it’s his relentless commitment to making the world a better place off the field. For that reason, Najee is this week’s AFH Community Hero!
From the moment AFH connected to Najee at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl, it was clear he was someone who embodied what our organization is all about. Over the past year, all while Najee was preparing to be drafted and then playing for the entire 2021 NFL season, he made time to contribute to many different causes in many different communities, using his platform for good.
In March of 2021, prior to the Draft, Najee made time to visit the North Texas Food Bank, helping pack, sort and box food for food insecure Texans. During the Draft itself, a night that one could say was the biggest of his life, he made it about others and his community by hosting a party for children living at the homeless shelter where he spent time during his childhood. Najee has also recorded multiple videos to spread joy and hope to sick patients at the Children’s Hospital of Mobile Alabama. This week, he participated in Project Play’s Reimagining School Sports event where he spoke on the importance of high school sports and how football opened doors to opportunities he never imagined (an event he prepared for on his 24th birthday!). Najee also founded his own foundation, Da Bigger Picture Foundation, which focuses on assisting underserved families in reaching their potential and goals.
“I found out that I could help people, my story could help people – or it will make them feel like they’re not alone in a way.”
Najee Harris to ESPN
Najee is truly special and we are very lucky to work with him to help make the world a better place. Congratulations, Najee, on being this week’s Community Hero of the Week! And a very Happy Birthday week 🎉
If you’re a football fan, you probably already know what the Senior Bowl is. You already know that it’s one of the biggest pre-NFL Draft events of the season where elite prospects – and soon we can drop the word “prospects” and replace it with “players” – from all over the country are invited to Mobile, Alabama to showcase their talent to coaches, scouts and decision-makers from all 32 NFL teams.
What you might not know is that since 2017, Athletes for Hope has had the privilege of presenting to each Senior Bowl class and helping them understand how to turn their charitable passions into action while leveraging their platform as athletes.
From strict COVID-19 protocols to our session being the first in-person workshop we’ve held for almost a year, everyone’s 2021 Senior Bowl was a little different than years’ past. But that was really where the differences ended. Lead by Athletes for Hope CEO Ivan Blumberg, players were engaged, inspired and since our workshop, we’ve had countless conversations with them on how they can give back to their communities.
So apart from prepping for the NFL Draft, what have some of these Senior Bowl athletes been up to since January?
Alabama’s Najee Harris spent an afternoon at the North Texas Food Bank (NTFB) helping pack kid-friendly food items for NTFB’s Food 4 Kids Program which provides backpacks full of nutritious foods and snacks to elementary school children experiencing food insecurity. He also moved pallets in their warehouse (which in all fairness might count as prepping for the Draft).
Pitt’s Patrick Jones II has been volunteering at various food banks across southeast Virginia, packing grocery bags, stocking shelves and sorting produce.
Duke’s Noah Gray joined the Philadelphia Phillies’ Sam Fuld’s TD1 Sports Camp where he spoke to campers about his experience living with Type 1 Diabetes as an athlete.
Education is at the core of Athletes for Hope and at the beginning of every charitable athlete’s philanthropic journey. We know this is just the beginning for not just the athletes mentioned above, but for so many soon-to-be NFL players.
We know the draft starts in Mobile. Where does an NFL prospect’s journey in turning their charitable passions into action start? Answer: also in Mobile.
Making kids smile! What could be a better mission than that? That’s exactly what the Detroit Lions players set out to do this week at St. John’s Children’s Hospital. Teammates Nick Bawden, Leo Koloamatangi , Trevor Bates, Jamil Demby, Brandon Powell spent the afternoon playing with the kids in the Children’s Play Room and walking room to room to meet with kids who were unable to leave their beds. A visit from an NFL Football player can really make the day of a child too sick to play and go to school. We thank the Lions players for giving back to the Detroit community.
When an athlete wants to make a hospital visit and they call Athletes for Hope they are often connected to a children’s hospital in the Starlight Children’s Foundation network. Starlight Children’s works within hospitals to bring moments of joy and comfort to hospitalized children and their families. They do this through several programs that provide crafts and games, fun and soft character gowns, playground equipment and fun toys within the hospital setting and now through a new program called Starlight Xperience. This virtual reality experience transports hospitalized kids virtually anywhere.
Athletes for Hope is a proud partner of Starlight Children’s Foundation and we hope to connect even more athletes to kids in hospitals all over the country. If you are an athlete and are interested in this opportunity, please contact our team. We will be glad to make a connection for you!
Athletes for Hope recently conducted a workshop with members of the Washington Redskins. Following the event, our team worked with players such as Vontae Diggs who expressed a desire to give back in his newly adopted city of Washington D.C.
A few minutes on the phone with Vontae was all it took for us to understand the impact he would have in the lives of young children and a strong motivation to mentor kids. Vontae’s appetite to give back largely stems from the difficult situation in which he grew up. During high school, he and his mother lived out of their car. After a few months, the Chicago streets soon claimed Vontae as a full-time resident. His mother left to live elsewhere and Vontae spent his nights sleeping on a park bench alone. It was a difficult time in his life, but his experience now compels him to help children in similar situations. “Some folks feel badly that I grew up the way I did but, to me, it was a blessing. Without the struggle, I wouldn’t be the man I am today and will be in the future,” said Vontae. Having gathered more information about Vontae’s background, we worked with our partners at the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project which seeks to cultivate resilience in children experiencing family homelessness by providing and expanding access to transformative play experiences.
Because of Vontae’s own personal journey, he was able to connect with and relate to the kids on a deeper level. “The excitement, joy, energy, and love that each and every one of the kids I met last night had made my heart 10x bigger,” he said.
Vontae spent several hours with the kids sharing his personal story. “Bullets have no names,” he told them after talking about life in the inner-city of Chicago. He warned the preteens that “being around the wrong people at the wrong time can end everything.” After the kids finished asking questions of the football player, the whole group moved outside to play. The Homeless Children’s Project said that parents, the security guard and even a 2-year-old shelter resident all got a chance to play catch with the football player.
We’re so excited to have Vontae here in the D.C. community and look forward to additional engagement opportunities in the future. For more information about how you can support the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, visit their website.
On March 9th, on the East side of Austin, 6 professional and Olympic athletes took time out of their busy schedules to visit Brooke Elementary, to encourage kids to exercise and stay active. Brooke Elementary is a neighborhood school where 96% of the student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch. It is also a community of kids and administrators who are trying new and innovative ideas to keep kids engaged and learning. With this in mind, we connected former WNT soccer star and Olympian Kristine Lilly, former NFL player Octavious Bishop, Olympic Decathlete Trey Hardee and Olympians Sanya Richards Ross, Kendra Chambers and Fiona Asigbee with the kids. First, the athletes stood up and shared a little about themselves. Octavious shared his struggle in academics as a child and how he was able to turn it around and earn his PHD. Trey Hardee talked about being cut from his basketball team, only to become a gold medal winning Olympian. Their inspirational stories were followed up with fun physical activities with the athletes. We truly enjoyed facilitating this athlete visit – the largest visit of this type we have ever coordinated. Hats off to Brooke Elementary students and administrators for making us feel so welcome.