When you grow up with great role models, you turn into one yourself. Will Allen of the Pittsburgh Steelers grew up watching his parents give back to the community however they could. His father would coach his teams and treated every kid on them as if they were his own. When someone needed help, they were there.
“I remember watching my father give back and help kids in the neighbourhood. He would invite people over to the house and he was always an inspiration and a father figure to a lot of the kids in the neighbourhood,” explained the Dayton, Ohio native.
“He coached Little League Baseball and Pee Wee Football and watching him make sacrifices for other people definitely had an impact on my life.”
Due to his father’s unselfishness and big heart, Allen learned the importance of helping those in need and how to treat others. The things that his father instilled in him at a young age have gone a long way and have helped turn him into the person that he is today.
“I think the main thing was that I wanted to give back and I wanted to help other people,” said Allen.
Allen created his own Foundation, The Will Allen Foundation, in May 2008 to inspire youth to attain their personal best and to be an influence in the lives of families in Dayton, Ohio; Tampa, Florida; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Through his Foundation, Allen has taken part in many community initiatives and has created some programs of his own. One of his programs, The Big Play program, was started in 2011. In partnership with Astor and Black, one of the world’s greatest custom clothiers, and through donations from professional athletes in the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA, custom suits are provided to young men in need to help them further their position in life and to remove a barrier that could prevent them from achieving their personal best.
“When you can give tools and resources to someone it allows them to do more for themselves and whenever you can provide that, you know, it just inspires people,” stated the safety out of Ohio State University.
“When you plant that seed in them, they’ll plant that seed in someone else and it just multiplies from there. Giving them the suits gives them empowerment so they can be better people, make better decisions and impact this world in a positive way.”
Allen’s favourite thing to do with his Foundation is the community service. Once a month he does community service with the kids in his Foundation with the after school program to show them the importance of giving back to the community and those in need, just like Allen’s father taught him when he was a child.
“To watch the kids have an excitement about giving back to other people in their community is really amazing. To see how they want to pay it forward and understand that they can help another person along the way while living their life is incredible.”
He understands how important an after school program is for the children, especially because it keeps them off of the streets and away from gangs, violence and drugs. While keeping them active and safe, he teaches them at the same time how great their lives can be if they just steer themselves in the right direction.
“I think the after school program does the most for the community because I bring in a business professional to help the students. They get to hear from different people from different walks of life and then once we go out into the community they are able to make a positive impact in the community,” described the Steelers safety. “It’s awesome how many possibilities there are for the children if they just work for it.”
Will Allen likes to teach the kids in his Foundation the importance of life. He makes sure to tell each and every one of them not to take anything for granted and enjoy what they have. He wants all of them to be the best person that they can possibly be and to always help someone else that is in need. One of the most important things that he teaches them is to always think about accountability and responsibility for every situation that they’re in.
Although his parents taught him a lot while he was growing up, Allen also learned a lot from Warrick Dunn, a former running back in the NFL, later on in life.
Allen says that the biggest thing that he’s been a part of to date when it comes to giving back to the community and helping someone out is the work that he’s done through Warrick Dunn Charities. What Warrick does is he gives fully furnished homes to single mothers and has given over 100 homes since he started.
“He started it long ago because of his mother. She was a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and she got murdered on the job, so he had to help raise his brothers and sisters with his grandmother and felt that when he got into the league it was something that he had to do in his mother’s honour,” said Allen.
“He had a reunion last year and invited the recipients and it brought me to tears just to see the joy and unselfish attitude that Warrick has and how he has impacted these families. Some of these families are neighbours so the kids got to grow up together, but some of them are from all over the country and to bring them all together and to hear their stories about how Warrick made a sacrifice and to hear about all of the people that pitched in to give them food and furniture is unbelievable,” he continued.
“Just to be a part of that and to help spread the word with that man, it’s really astonishing and I don’t know anyone who is doing it like him, no matter how much money they have or how much sacrifice they’ve made in their lives. It inspires me to see the type of man that he is and the amount of support that he has and the amount of people that he impacts everyday. It’s amazing, it really is.”
As someone who understands the importance of giving back, getting signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers was a blessing. They are a team that Allen says ‘makes it their business to give back’, and he’s all for it. He feels like it’s their responsibility as professionals and entertainers to go out and give back to the people that support them on a daily basis.
The one thing that Will Allen would like to achieve someday through his Foundation is for him to be able to help kids get a full-paid scholarship to school. He was blessed to get help from someone else when it was time for him to go to college, so now he wants to return the favour to someone else.
“A family donated money to the University of Ohio State and it was for me, for me to get a scholarship and I’m very fortunate for that so I would like to do that for kids, not only give them a full scholarship, but empower them with knowledge to help them prepare for the future, that’s my whole idea behind everything. Prepare them to be young adults so they can get to where they need to go.”
Allen’s Foundation is still fairly new, but it has continued to grow each year since its inception. Each year he continues to grow as a human being and as an athlete and continues to put smiles on kids’ faces and lead them in the right direction in life.
To learn more about The Will Allen Foundation, visit www.willallenfoundation.com