Last year I began an internship with United Way in Alexandria, Va. Passionate about creating ways for NFL players to become more involved in their local communities, I wanted to help develop ways for them to connect with United Way for a greater reach of impact. As my relationship with this organization grew, I knew I wanted to come back for a second year. Having just finished my second year with them a few weeks ago, I’m excited about the strategies we have in place.
Through the process of implementing the community development programs in my hometown in Mississippi, I’ve discovered all the struggles and hurdles any player would face when reaching out to the local community. But by partnering with the local United Way in our city, we were able to utilize the partnerships they have with over 400 corporations and 300 nonprofits in the area. This combination of efforts expanded our reach significantly! In the same way, my goal is to connect other NFL players with the resources available at the 1,800 different local United Way programs worldwide.
United Way has been partnering with the NFL for more than 50 years now, but what does that look like in 2018? What should it look like in 2018? This pilot program is new, it’s a lot of work, and it’s growing in a very exciting way!
My passion for helping the local community stems from how I was brought up and what I witnessed in my hometown; I didn’t want to see any more kids fall through the cracks. While growing up, I watched many of my friends who had great talents and high aspirations fall through the cracks, either from a lack of resources or financial backing, hard family situations, or a struggling education system. These roadblocks pushed them to make bad decisions.
Every year in my hometown, we now see 50-60 kids come out for a summer camp — one not only focused on football, but on education as well. The sixth through eighth graders are being poured into and encouraged to develop their passions and knowledge. The ninth through 12th graders are then moving on to become volunteer mentors for the younger kids. This has quickly become not just a summer program, but year-round encouragement and mentorship opportunities for this community.
I remember one kid in particular, Clarence Atkinson — we called him Kool-Aid. When he first came to camp, he was in one of the bottom tiers of our high school program. But as he grew, he didn’t only progress in his own education, he began to see the impact he could have as a leader for the other kids. He learned that this program is about more than just making it through, it is about becoming a mentor, spending one-on-one time with others, realizing he can be a role model for others. To see him take on this ownership as a leader was inspiring. Kool-Aid is now playing basketball at the collegiate level, and even though he’s found a great future for himself, he still comes back to be a part of this program, eager to serve.
We’re taking mentorship to the next level — to discipleship. My goal is to lead a life of example, to be a person these kids look up to. More than that, my aim is to share the Gospel both by my words and my actions.
— Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints linebacker
The Increase, part of the Sports Spectrum Network, is a community of Christian pro athletes sharing their personal stories of the decrease of self and the increase of Christ (John 3:30). Visit TheIncrease.com for more stories and videos.