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"Heros of our Day" from Destination
Hawaii Magazine - 2002
OF OUR DAYS
by Kathy Jacobson
warriors trot onto the filed, armed to conquer, armored
for protection. They have trained their bodies, disciplined
their minds, and honed their skills. They are ready
for battle. If they win they gain glory, honor, fame,
and wealth. They will not accept defeat.
the men who compete in the National Football League,
each game plays out like a battle, but the real war
continues long after a player hangs up his jersey. In
a game, the opponents are named, numbered, and wear
the colors of their team; in life the opponents weave
and shift and invade the entire community. Real life
opponents don't leave the field when the final buzzer
THE DECISION TO SERVE
1993, twenty-one retired NFL players joined together
to form a foundation called Athletes Helping Kids. They
united in a common effort to conquer the adversaries
who threaten our nation's children- drugs, gangs, low
self-esteem, and violence.
story began in 1986 when a real life hero named Don
Edwards and four former pro players brainstormed ways
they could give back to the community. They conceived
a program to combat drug use among young people and
named it the Athletes for Youth Foundation. They planned
to conduct clinics with high school students , using
the fundamentals of football to break down the normal
barriers between adults and kids and to create a "teammate"
relationship where no topic was off limits.
by a grant from Los Angeles Olympic Committee, they
held a football clinic for 2000 young athletes. The
success of that clinic led to an even bigger dream-a
national organization that would give the athletes a
way to empower kids all across the United States. For
the next seven years the foundation conducted successful
events throughout the Western United States, touching
the lives of thousands of young people. With each success,
the dreams grew.
1993, the organization experienced a transformation
and became Athletes Helping Kids, with the motto
"Make a Difference." Armed with a giant vision
but no funding, the new foundation set out to find corporate
sponsors. Because Athletes Helping Kids was small and
regional, it met with a lot of encouragement but little
financial support. Then the Hilton Hawaiian Village
Hotel in Honolulu entered the arena. The hotel became
their enthusiastic sponsor. To founding member and Executive
Director Don Edwards, the Hawaiian Hilton was and is
a pivotal force in the success of the organization.
the on-going support of Hilton Hawaiian Village, Athletes
Helping Kids has conducted a consistent series of events
on the islands, including football clinics, essay contests,
stay-in-school assemblies, and workshops in classrooms.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
typical half-day clinic draws from 400 to 2000 kids-boys
and girls-and lasts four hours. The clinic begins by
assigning the participants to a field position. During
the first hour, the pros present the fundamentals, including
pointers on stretching, working out, being in charge
of one's body, and good nutrition.
the second hour the athletes teach fundamentals and
the trick of the trade. During this segment of the clinic,
a teammate relationship builds between the players and
the kids. By passing the ball back and forth, the normal
barriers between adults and children dissolve; trust
develops, and the lines of communication open up.
the third hour, the athletes and kids rap together.
The men make themselves available for questions, and
the questions come as hard and fast as any linebacker
bearing down on a quarterback: "What do I do if
my best friend offers me drugs?" "What should
I do if I come home and my dad's drunk and is beating
up on my mom?" "Why should I try to go to
college when I can make good money dealing?"
are given as suggestions, in the form of personal experience,
or invited form the other kids. Any problems that exceed
the expertise of the athlete get researched until the
appropriate help can be provided. No questions is belittled
or ignored. These men care about the kids, and it shows.
final hour puts the kids on the field in an offense
vs. defense, non-contact football scrimmage.
Helping Kids dreams big. Early on they envisioned annual
two-clinics in every city with an NFL team. As they
continue to grow and show success, within the next two
years that goal will be a reality.
have all retired NFL players taking an active part.
To include women athletes in the clinics.
To expand into all 50 states with a task force of six
ball players per state running local programs.
programs conducted by Athletes Helping Kids share a
common theme, and that theme is the organization's motto:
Make a difference. These heroes teach children that
to make a difference in their own lives. They stress
self-esteem, goal settings, getting an education, and
the relationship between sports, education and life.
They address issues such as anti-violence use, anti-gang
violence, child abuse, and domestic violence.
Helping Kids has a amassed an impressive no-loss record.
In addition to football clinics , they conduct literacy
and stay-in-school programs. They have worked with both
D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and NOVA (National
Organization for Victim Assistance).
Conjunction with NOVA, soon after the bombing of the
Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City,
Athletes Helping Kids conducted a sports clinic for
the children who were directly or indirectly affected.
Over 30 NFL players volunteered and 650 children attended
the activity. In response to a tragedy, these men offered
their time, their ability to use sports as therapy,
and their shoulders to cry on.
FRUITS OF LOVE
Over the past 15 years, these professional football
players, active and retired, have worked with over 250,000
kids. They have given their time, talent, energy and
resources. In Hawaii alone they have contributed over
$400,000 to charities such as D.A.R.E., the Hawaiian
Police Athletic Federation, and various literacy programs,
raising funds through charity basketball and softball
games against local police and fire departments and
through auctions of signed memorabilia. Their anti-drug
use essay contest in Hawaii received thousands of entries
(see accompanying article) and the athletes spend an
evening with the winners.
men are heroes. They may never win medals of honor.
They may never have monuments of praise erected in some
town square. But they stand up for what they believe
and they touch lives-the lives of our youth. The proof
of their service comes in thank-you letters from mothers
who claim their sons stayed in school, quit drugs, joined,
the army, or finished college because one of these dedicated
heroes of our day truly " made a difference."