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United Way Blog

Change Starts with a Conversation

Sometimes our challenges are so big, it’s hard to ask for help. Sometimes our problems seem impossible to conquer, making it difficult to find solutions.

Sometimes a conversation can change a life.

Just ask Brandon Marshall, a record-breaking wide receiver in the NFL who is using football as a platform to move the mental health conversation forward. Known for making highlight-reel plays on the field, Brandon has been making headlines off it since co-founding PROJECT 375 with his wife, Michi, in 2011.

“We started PROJECT 375 to help promote awareness of mental health, end the stigma and raise funding for treatment,” said Brandon, who has raised nearly a million dollars over the years. “We’re changing the conversation. For every one person we educate on mental illness, one less has to suffer from it.”

Through his foundation, and with United Way’s support, Brandon is working with communities and teaching people about the importance of understanding, and seeking support for, mental illness. An example of this is through their Youth Mental Health First Aid Trainings, led by Michi, a certified trainer with a background in behavioral forensics and behavioral profiling.

“Recently, a teacher that attended one of my wife’s trainings went back to his class and asked the students if they were OK. He talked about the importance of mental health and asked them to come to him if they were suffering in silence,” said Brandon. “After class, a student approached him and admitted they were planning on taking their life that night. The next day, this person and their family were at a recovery center receiving help. Thanks to our training, we were able to save a life.”

For nearly 45 years, through their partnership with the NFL, United Way has been helping players like Brandon give back to their communities. And through programs like Hometown Huddle and Character Playbook, they’re contributing to childhood and youth success. United Way’s partnership with the NFL is creating positive and permanent change, one community at a time.

On June 7, that partnership was on full display when Brandon was honored for his contributions in New Jersey’s communities and schools. As the newest recipient of the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, Brandon accepted a $50,000 donation from the NFL and United Way of Essex and West Hudson, with a matching contribution to Character Playbook.

“I'm honored to be recognized by United Way. They’re really doing great work,” said Brandon. “This donation will help us change more lives, end the stigmas around mental illness and contribute to the character development of the next generation.”