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Community @Work: Beyond the Gridiron

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Kenneth-Quinnell_smallThe latest article in our Community section of the AFL-CIO @Work site takes a look at an innovative program from the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health that provides much-needed services to an often neglected segment of American society.

Sometimes, an unexpected moment can change the lives of thousands of people.

In 1996, NFL Players Association (NFLPA) member Nick Lowery, a Pro Bowl placekicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots and the New York Jets, was wrapping up his career and had an idea to create a football camp for Native American youths. He approached the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health and was told the plan needed a broader purpose that had to go beyond football.

He then bumped into a fellow former NFL player, running back Clark Gaines, on an airplane. Their conversation turned to Lowery’s project and the idea broadened into creating a sports and lifestyle camp for Native American youths. Within a year, the NFLPA, the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation and Johns Hopkins joined forces to create NativeVision, a program enabling professional athletes to mentor economically disadvantaged American Indian youths. Since then, more than 26,000 young people have been served by the program.

“NativeVision is magic,” says Allison Barlow, the associate director of the Johns Hopkins center that co-sponsors the program. “It springs from each person giving all they have of raw talents, passion and life story.”

The centerpiece of the year-round NativeVision program is the annual camp that attracts American Indian youths from around the country. Held in June on tribal lands, the NativeVision camps have involved the efforts of more than 60 professional athletes and coaches to date. The camp goes beyond sports and includes breakout sessions that promote discipline, teamwork, the pursuit of education and healthy lifestyles. Workshops aren’t limited to young people either; offerings include computer training, parenting, cooking, financial literacy, community service projects, arts and life skills for families of the youths and other community members.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on December 21, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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