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"Heros of our Day" from Destination Hawaii Magazine - 2002

HEROES OF OUR DAYS by Kathy Jacobson

The 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.

For 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 sounds.


THE DECISION TO SERVE

In 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.

The 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.

Financed 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.

TRANSFORMATION

In 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.

With 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

A 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.

In 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.

For 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?"

Answers 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.

The final hour puts the kids on the field in an offense vs. defense, non-contact football scrimmage.

SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS

Athletes 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.

Other goals include:

To 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.

All 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.

Athletes 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).

In 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.

THE 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.

These 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."

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Athletes Helping Kids
9903 Santa Monica Blvd.
Suite #108
Los Angeles, California 90212
Phone: (310) 474-4711