MIAMI DOLPHIN MICHAEL THOMAS NAMED WEEK 7 NFLPA COMMUNITY MVP
The NFL safety leads "The First Step" initiative mentoring youth in underserved Florida neighborhoods
Editor’s Note: The NFLPA Community MVP recognizes players who are making a positive impact in their local communities. Each week, the NFLPA will celebrate one player who recently demonstrated his commitment to giving back and will make a donation to the player’s foundation or cause in support. This week’s #CommunityMVP is Miami Dolphin Michael Thomas who is demonstrating leadership by speaking to at-risk youth of underprivileged communities.
October 20, 2015 has a new meaning for Michael Thomas of the Miami Dolphins.
The Mayor of Fort Pierce, Florida proclaimed the Tuesday to be Michael Thomas Day and presented the 26-year-old safety with an honorary Key to the City. The pomp and circumstance celebrated something Thomas is innately passionate about – mentorship. Though he has no previous ties to the Fort Pierce community, he drove for more than two hours to be a key figure in a new program that is focused on providing positive role models to local youth.
“My favorite part of receiving the key was that the commissioners had the kids present to me. This really helped show the children that they are a part of this,” Thomas said.
The day included two-touch football, pizza and, most importantly for Thomas, a lot of time to connect directly with the young attendees.
“The most memorable part was answering their questions. Their questions are so raw and innocent, and it shows that what they hear as a young person actually has a major impact on painting their future,” Thomas said.
Though he grew up more than 1,000 miles away in Houston, he said it was very easy to relate to the kids.
“The questions they asked brought me back to my own childhood,” he said. “Playing ball with them in the park was just like playing one of the backyard games that I did in my youth.”
A First Step for Fort Pierce
The First Step, founded by community philanthropist Scott Van Duzer and the Van Duzer Foundation, focuses on making genuine, lasting connections with kids who are faced with the disadvantages of growing up in neighborhoods characterized by “anger, violence and bad influences.” It hopes to achieve this by challenging community leaders to get together with youth in a Fort Pierce park for one hour each Tuesday.
“When Scott Van Duzer and the Van Duzer Foundation reached out to me, I was all for it,” Thomas said. “We want these youth to leave the First Step program with bigger dreams and to accomplish something great!”
Thomas graduated from Stanford University with honors and a degree in sociology. He is quick to acknowledge that he was able to succeed at such a high academic and athletic level because of mentorship that he benefited from during his upbringing in Texas.
“It’s important to me to try to inspire kids and offer resources and experiences that they wouldn't otherwise have,” Thomas said. “Many of us in the NFL have had moments as a child where someone – a coach, teacher or mentor – took time to believe in us. My desire is that, by getting involved, I am helping change a kid’s life.”
Making Strides with Selfless Service
While this was Thomas’ first time with the initiative in St. Lucie County, when he isn’t defending the backfield, he likes to spend time engaging with and fundraising for youth throughout South Florida and Houston.
At a visit to Mae E. Walters Elementary School on September 22, the safety encouraged students to stay active and healthy – he even completed a group jumping jack exercise with students, faculty and staff.
“It’s important for me to give back, because I remember being a child that dreamed about making it to the NFL,” Thomas said. “I would see the commercials of players and teams surprising kids and schools, and I would always wish that someone would come to my school for that very thing. I wanted to see with my own eyes and be able to believe for myself that it was actually possible to make it to the NFL!”
During the offseason, he held his first annual “Camp Mike T,” a free three-day youth football camp in July for kids ages 12 to 14. The camp was held in his hometown of Houston, on the very field Thomas played on in high school.
In April, Thomas held a Draft watch party charity event to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. And for the second year in a row, Thomas is supporting the NFLPA’s “One Team for the Cure” initiative, which benefits the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C.
A Marathon, Not a Sprint
Thomas is eager to continue work on these initiatives and enact more in the future. He emphasizes that he’s not interested in one-and-done appearances but instead truly wants to make a long-term impact on youth who need it most. That starts with expanding The First Step to another community that is close to his heart.
“I am looking forward to hosting an event with The First Step in my hometown, Houston, during the off-season,” Thomas said. “It’s important to stress not just sports, but education. Education opens doors to many, many opportunities. It is so important for the future of their lives, and these programs help young children, who are so impressionable, believe all things are possible.”
-- Giordanna Easley
To keep up with Michael Thomas and his charitable efforts, you can follow him on social media: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Visit the NFLPA Community MVP page for more information: https://www.nflpa.com/campaign/community-mvp
2015 NFLPA Community MVPs:
Week 1: Sam Barrington (Green Bay Packers)
Week 2: Justin Tuck (Oakland Raiders)
Week 3: Matt Forté (Chicago Bears)
Week 4: Cliff Avril (Seattle Seahawks)
Week 5: Vontae Davis (Indianapolis Colts)
Week 6: William Hayes (St. Louis Rams)