Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series.
Last week United Way launched the United Way NFL Player Scouting Team, a core group of civic-minded, college-educated NFL players committed to helping United Way recruit one million volunteer readers, tutors and mentors. George Wilson (Buffalo Bills), Calais Campbell (Arizona Cardinals), Leigh Bodden (New England Patriots), Josh Cribbs (Cleveland Browns) and Nnamdi Asomugha (NFL Cornerback, Free Agent) visited United Way in Alexandria, Virginia for the kick-off.
The players were told about three local students at risk of dropping out. After learning the kids stories, the players decided to surprise the kids with a visit, and see if they could convince them to stick it out in school.
This is the second installment in a three-part series featuring their stories. United Way will post the stories of Johnny, Darius, and Furious, and the visitors they weren't expecting.
Darius, a 17 year old student from Alexandria, Virginia is very behind in school. Even though many of his friends are graduating, he must complete two additional years of school to graduate.
According to his school, this is not due to lack of talent. In fact, the principal describes Darius as a bright and fully capable young man with a lot of potential. With all of the pressures of high school, it became clear that maybe what Darius needs is a mentor to help focus his talents. United Way with the help of some very special friends set out to give some guidance and hopefully inspire this young man to reach his full potential. Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns and Leigh Bodden of the New England Patriots learned about Darius when they arrived in Alexandria, and decided to pay him a visit.
Josh and Leigh knocked on Darius’s door with a very important mission to share some straight talk with this young man and try to convince him to stick it out and reach his goal of joining the Navy after graduation. As Darius’s confused face changed to delight at the sight of these unlikely set of visitors, the players knew it was game time and joined Darius on his parents' couch to get to work.
Josh and Leigh quickly let Darius know that they were to visit, support him, and check in on how he was doing in school. Both Josh and Leigh are originally from Darius’s backyard hailing from Maryland and DC. They know that high school can be tough, especially when peers don’t think that it’s "cool" to try hard or take it seriously. Like many adults, they understood the potential pitfalls and obstacles one must overcome, and they wanted to help him develop a game plan that will get him to graduation. Both players are fortunate to have graduated from college, and know the importance of education for everyone. Throughout the morning, they discussed Darius’s obstacles and hardships as well as his dreams and goals for the future.
Darius began to beam with enthusiasm as he shared his passion for cooking, his part-time job at TJ Maxx and his family life. Realizing that this young man was exceptional, full of potential and drive, they hoped that with a few tips from a caring adult and a little encouragement, he can be successful and pursue his dreams. Everyone needs a good coach in their lives, someone to stand in your corner when things are tough. The players were determined to be that for Darius. They gave him some easy tips – like making sure you stick around after class to let your teacher know that you’re trying and ask for help when you need it. They were also frank with Darius. He is lucky to have a mother and father who both care about him and want him to succeed and let him know that now, he can count on them too. They’re on his team. Throughout the morning the players and Darius bonded and even exchanged phone numbers to keep in touch throughout his school year. They also left him with a promise. if Darius achieves a 3.0 this semester and his new friends in the NFL will make it worth his while.
Before leaving, Leigh and Josh paired Darius up with a local mentor to ensure he has the support system he needs to succeed.
Meeting Darius made Josh and Leigh realize the instant impact a caring adult can have on children just by spending time with them. After their visit, Darius's dad looked at the players and said, "I always knew you were good players but I never knew you were great men.”
Josh and Leigh realized the importance of the work they would be doing over the course of the next few years to recruit one million volunteer readers, tutors and mentors with United Way to support America's kids. When they arrived back at United Way's office they were energized from their experience. They never expected how great they would feel after reaching out a hand to someone in need.