After running through tackles, plays and covering drills all day with his team, Chicago Bears’ offensive lineman Roberto Garza comes home to practice numbers, shapes and letters with his three-year-old daughter.
From the X’s and O’s of the playbook to the ABC’s on his daughter’s wall, Garza’s passion for learning started when he was just about her age thanks to his own supportive parents who insisted that education was the key to success. Now, as a 34-year-old father of two, Garza is committed to spreading that message not only to his own daughters, but to children across the country
“It’s amazing how much spending a little time with kids can make such a big difference,” the Texas native said. “It’s so important that kids just have someone there who’s willing to listen. Unfortunately, that isn’t always their own parents, so it’s going to take someone else to step into their lives and take the time.”
Befittingly, that message is a core tenant of Garza’s most recent charitable involvement, United Way TEAM NFL – an education-based program committed to recruiting 99,000 volunteer readers, tutors and mentors for students in an ultimate effort to tackle America’s daunting high school drop out rate. As a true embodiment of the group’s vision and goals, Garza has quickly become a key player in the program’s second year.
“Education has always been a top priority for us,” United Way of Lake County, Illinois representative Jennifer Yonan said. “And with a guy like Roberto to back it, well, you just couldn’t get a more genuine figure. He’s smart, he’s relatable and he directly targets a group that is at the highest risk of dropping out.”
Garza’s Hispanic background brings this issue to the forefront for a community that he admits is often overlooked in America. Born and raised in a Spanish-speaking household, Garza was a first-generation college graduate in his family who emigrated from Mexico before he was born. He credits his parents, who never made it past elementary school, for his own success today.
While he acknowledges that football was always his ultimate career goal, school always came first for Garza as he knew that one couldn’t happen without the other. Now that he finds himself in an influential position, he uses the NFL as a platform to preach the same message he was taught back when he first put on a helmet at age 13.
“Basically, I tell kids, ‘If you stay in school, you can reach any dream,’” Garza said frankly. ”If you don’t pass, you can’t play. Education is an avenue to reach your dreams, and my main focus is trying to get that point across.”
But even the 6’2, 310 pound lineman cannot carry the weight of the high school dropout rate on his burly shoulders. Help Roberto Garza spread his message to students by signing up to become a volunteer reader, tutor or mentor at unitedway.org/teamgarza.