A place in this world

Rashad Jennings gives back to kids

Rashad Jenning’s story begins with an overweight kid and a reading deficit.

Giving back — Jennings announced his plans for his foundation at the Liberty-Coastal game. Photo credit: Leah Seavers

Giving back — Jennings announced his plans for his foundation at the Liberty-Coastal game. Photo credit: Leah Seavers

A kid, like many others, with dreams and aspirations of playing in the National Football League, Jennings found himself on the sideline during games more than he got to actually play in them.

“He was just an overweight, chubby kid with glasses, asthma, a 0.6 GPA and a reading attention deficit,” Christina Hoverstadt, director of programs for the Rashad Jennings Foundation, said.

One fateful day, Jennings decided to take ownership of his life and turn things around. With the help of his older brothers stepping in as mentors, Jennings put aside all excuses and worked hard until his dream became a reality.

Jennings, starting running back for the New York Giants and former Liberty Flame standout running back, has decided to use his platform as a professional athlete as a way to impact
communities and nations.

In order to accomplish the tall task of impacting the masses, the Rashad Jennings Foundation seeks “to inspire youth by making education fun, to provide mentorship for individual success, and to promote health and fitness worldwide,” per the foundation’s website.

The primary way in which the foundation helps make education fun is the Reading Challenge.

Scattered throughout four states (Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia), more than 20,000 children are currently enrolled in the program.

Once entered into the reading challenge, a student reads as many books as he or she can within the span of a month. Following the reading, each student takes a test to ensure that he or she comprehended the book.

Upon completion of the test, the student is put into a drawing for a wide array of prizes. Rewards come from NFL players and include Skype sessions with players, game worn cleats and gloves, tickets to games and locker room tours.

The foundation places a high emphasis on reading because two-thirds of students who are unable to read by the fourth grade will end up either in jail or on welfare, according to begintoread.com.

“If your teacher is telling you that you have a reading deficit, you’re automatically going to separate yourself,” Hoverstadt, who used to teach high school reading courses, said. “We’re trying to get every student, whether they’re great readers or lower readers, to improve.”

In addition, the foundation is rolling out a new mentorship program geared toward high school student athletes.

The turnaround in Jenning’s life occurred while he was in high school, so he is hoping that through mentorship other high school students will take ownership over themselves as well.

“Mentorship is going to be very hands on,” Hoverstadt said. “A piece of that is going to involve a lot of professional athletes that want to give back to communities.”

Teenage athletes involved in the program will have an opportunity to interact with a cast of professional athletes via online video calls and chat forums. Each high school athlete will receive a personal experience with each mentor Hoverstadt said.

The desired outcome of the program is to motivate each participant to dedicate him or herself to do what needs to be done in order to accomplish goals that they have set up for life.

As a result of being mentored by his brothers, Jennings decided to take control of his life and use it for good.

“You’ve probably heard of Rashad as a renaissance man,” Hoverstadt said. “Now all he does is read and wants to learn, so it’s kind of a testimony in itself that if you can overcome that challenge you can do great things.”

For more information on the Rashad Jennings Foundation, visit rashadjenningsfoundation.com or follow them on social media @therjfoundation.

Keating is a sports reporter.

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