Last night, the NFL’s 100th season kicked off with the annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, OH. This weekend will be the league’s 56th Hall of Fame induction, adding eight more names to the esteemed group of NFL athletes. One name in particular stands out for not only his commitment to the game, but his commitment to the community.
Ed Reed was nominated to this year’s Hall of Fame class in his first year of eligibility. Many know Reed for his ballhawking skills on the field, being a menace to quarterbacks across the league and intercepting passes with his non-conventional route running. Less people probably know about the incredible work that Reed and his namesake foundation are doing in cities around the country.
Courtney Aburn-Reisz is the Program Manager and Development Director of the Ed Reed Foundation. Courtney joined the team a little more than a year ago after working for the American Heart Association.
We talked to her about the impact that the Ed Reed Foundation is making in cities like Baltimore, Miami and New Orleans. Their programming runs the gamut, from football camps and building parks to school scholarships and character building curriculum for young people.
“Most of what we do is based off of Ed’s personal story,” says Aburn-Reisz. She recounts how when Reed was drafted to the Ravens his rookie year, he was taken by a mentor on the team to a school in West Baltimore, Booker T. Washington Middle School. The school is in one of the most impoverished areas of Baltimore City, with 100% of the students at the school qualifying for free lunches. Both math and reading levels for students at Booker T. Washington rank under 1 percent, a huge difference from the state averages of 42 and 44 percent respectively. “Ed saw the kids there, he saw the environment they were in and he kind of had this ‘aha’ moment, like, ‘that was me’.”
Aburn-Reisz continued to say that Reed recognized if he hadn’t been able to take advantage of a few opportunities from positive mentors along the way, he never would have gotten out of his hometown. “It stems from his own personal desire to help these kids through whatever avenue he can,” she explains. “He happens to be athletically inclined, so sports are his avenue, his vehicle to reach these kids. But he’s really passionate about inspiring them to find something that helps them to get out of their environment, to see what else is out there and broaden their horizons.”
Ed Reed Foundation Programming
Based in Baltimore, where Reed played the majority of his NFL career, the Ed Reed Foundation is focused on providing character-building opportunities through inspiring at-risk youth with athletic initiatives founded in mentorship, leadership, and exposure to new environments. Their values are Respect, Educate, Empower and Dream (or REED for short).
From donating more than 5000 turkeys to local Baltimore families for Thanksgiving over the years, to hosting 500 young people at a football camp last month, Reed and his foundation are passionate about providing opportunities and resources to underserved communities like the one he grew up in.
And Reed’s hometown of New Orleans is the site for the foundation’s next big project: building kids a safe place to play. The Ed Reed Foundation is building a park in Reed’s home of St. Charles’ Parish. St. Rose, where Reed grew up, is the only town in St. Charles’ Parish that does not have a free public park for residents to enjoy. The organization acquired the land over 10 years ago and will open the new facility this fall. The park will have a multi-use turf field, two basketball courts, a playground, a walking path, picnic areas and more.
Aburn-Reisz shares how the park has been a long time dream for Reed. “He looks back on his fondest memories of playing in the park with his dad and talks about how he used to catch pop flies from him. That’s really how he started developing into one of the best safeties in the game.”
Partnerships are Critical to the Ed Reed Foundation’s Success
She adds, “The lack of having that space where kids can gather and play and without engaging kids in positive activities, they are always tempted with negative activities and behaviors.”
The foundation is focused on supporting underserved youth and inspiring them to seek out new positive environments. “A lot of our partnerships so far have been based on Ed’s personal connections,” says Aburn-Reisz. “Booker T. Washington became a partner because Ed went there and saw the school in person, and he said ‘I can’t NOT do something for these kids’.”
She talks about how the organization also supports the SEED School of Maryland, a 24 hour public, college preparatory and boarding school from Sunday through Friday that serves the same demographic of kids that Booker T. Washington does. There is a lottery for students to be selected into the SEED School of Maryland and they have to meet certain criteria to be considered.
Their system seems to be working, with the school boasting over 400 high school graduates, and 80% of those graduates being first generation college bound. “So we are seeing this and thinking, ok, this is where we need to get the Booker T. Washingtons of the world brought up to speed. This is type of educational system and structure that sets kids up for success,” says Aburn-Reisz. “The kids are the same, but they are doing better when they are pulled out of their everyday environment.” The Ed Reed Foundation also supports the SEED School of Miami that opened its doors in 2014.
Aburn-Reisz harps on the benefits of partnering and working with organizations in the communities where they work. “It’s so necessary,” she says. She talks about the benefits of being a part of former Baltimore Raven, Matt Stover’s organization, Players Philanthropy Fund, which acts as a fiscal sponsor or donor advised fund for athletes and entertainers and their charitable giving.
“We are already naturally in this great network of organizations and almost all of the clients of PPF are nonprofits founded by former or current athletes,” Aburn-Reisz explains. “They knew that athletes wanted to do more and give back, but didn’t necessarily want to be the ones managing the backend of the nonprofit organization.” Players Philanthropy Fund works with athletes like Adrian Peterson, Dwyane Wade, Deandre Jordan, Etan Thomas, Ray Lewis, Santonio Holmes, and many more, totalling over 125 charitable organizations.
The Ed Reed Foundation works with the Baltimore Ravens and one of its partners, Up2Us Sports, that also believes in the importance of mentorship and character building through coaching. “The partnership with Up2Us Sports came through our existing positive relationship with the Baltimore Ravens,” says Aburn-Reisz. “They are doing great work and it aligns with our mission in a bit of a different way, which is really cool.”
The Unique Benefits and Challenges of Having an Athlete Founder
Having an athlete founder or namesake to a foundation, has its benefits and challenges. Some examples of benefits are the partnerships and relationships that the organization has with big named organizations like the Baltimore Ravens, or fellow pro athletes that know Reed personally and are always willing to help.
When we asked Aburn-Reisz to describe some of the challenges, she explains, “We’re a small organization and we’ve faced struggles of having a lot of stuff to do with only a few of us in the office as full time employees.” She says one of the biggest challenges that they face being Ed Reed’s Foundation is people reaching out asking for support for their specific cause. Aburn-Reisz says they get daily requests from organizations and events asking for Reed and his organization to support.
“It’s a constant conversation among our team of asking, does this really align with what we’re doing?” she explains. ”We’ve come to the realization that you have to stay in your lane to really help. If you say yes to everyone, you end up not really, truly helping anyone.”
Taking Advantage of Reed’s Hall of Fame Induction Buzz
And this weekend, all eyes will be on Ed Reed as he gets inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. The organization is taking advantage of the buzz around Reed and his accomplishments on the field to highlight the work he is spearheading off of it.
“We knew that the foundation has slowly been building the community initiatives we have, and knew this was really a year for us to relaunch what we’ve been doing to try to reach more people and reengage more corporate partners,” says Aburn-Reisz. The organization has also taken advantage of the excitement to launch new programs like the SEED School of Maryland scholarship program and their first annual black tie gala in the fall.
While the Ed Reed Foundation has been around for over 15 years, Aburn-Reisz sees a lot of opportunities for growth. “I don’t think our mission will ever be done,” she said. “We want to expand our REED programs to more schools in West Baltimore and serve as a connector for other nonprofits to bring people together to have a larger impact.” She continues, “We want our scholarship programs to support more kids year over year. Another big goal is securing corporate partners to help fund all of this growth.”
And while the Ed Reed Foundation grows, Aburn-Reisz says we shouldn’t be surprised if we see more athletes committing their time outside of sports to giving back in the community. “The influence that athletes have isn’t really like anything else, especially when it comes to impacting young people,” she explains. “Athletes have a unique power behind them so I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of them giving back. Athletes can get things done in a way that a lot of other nonprofits can’t.”
The Ed Reed Foundation will host their annual Golf Classic on August 19th, 2019 and their first annual gala honoring Reed’s Hall of Fame induction will be on September 13th, 2019. For more information on either event, or how to donate to their programming, visit www.edreedfoundation.org.
And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow, August 3rd at 7:00pm EST for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on ESPN or NFL Network to watch Ed Reed receive his gold jacket!