ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Mike Adams remembers feeling the pit in his stomach when, instead of going to the supermarket, his mom, his aunt and a few of his six siblings walked around the corner to the church to pick up Thanksgiving dinner.
The volunteers put the cranberry sauce, the turkey, the mashed potatoes and the rest into a shopping cart and little Mike, not even 10 at the time, followed everyone back home to get ready for the holiday.
“I was embarrassed,” Adams said. “I think about it now and it was like, damn, we really didn’t have much.”
That was life growing up poor in Paterson, N.J. – a life the Broncos safety has left behind but has by no means forgotten.
Yes, there are hundreds of NFL players doing all kinds of charity work this Thanksgiving – and every week. Adams and his charity, the Rising Stars Foundation, have taken on an even more special meaning this year because his community, in addition to having a poverty rate about 11 percent over the national average, has been dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, as well.
“It was a tough place to grow up, and a tough place to live,” Adams said.
This year, instead of giving away food, Rising Stars’ main Thanksgiving project is a coat giveaway. Adams wants to find at least 100 kids who don’t have coats and make sure they aren’t shivering during their trips from home to school. He runs a football camp in the summer, a back-to-school drive in the fall where he gives out book bags and free haircuts for boys and hair-dos for girls. After Sandy hit, he sent a $100,000 check to his foundation to help ease some of the suffering back home.
“It’s a whole lot of things I try to do so people there can see a different side of me and see me as much as possible,” Adams said. “I want them to know that regardless of the circumstances, the environment, all the things you see, you can still find a way out of that.”
Though his inspiring NFL story – undrafted rookie makes a team, then spends nine years in the league – is not unheard of, it takes on extra weight when he’s telling it to the hundreds of kids who make up his audience when he runs the camps, or heads home for other charity events.
“I beat the odds,” he said. “When I go back home, kids see that and know I wasn’t drafted. They know there’s more than one chance, and that’s all you need, is an opportunity. It’s why I always wanted to give, give, give. Take every paycheck as a blessing. Every down.”
Adams started his career in San Francisco, picked up by the Niners as a college free agent out of Delaware. In 2007, he signed with the Browns, where he played five seasons. Last offseason, the Broncos signed him. He has started all 10 games in Denver, broken up eight passes, recovered two fumbles, made one sack for a safety and has been a steady, veteran presence on a defense ranked sixth in the league in yards allowed.
The real stats, in the safety’s book, are the number of kids he can influence back home.
Adams started the foundation in 2006 with another Paterson native, Gerald Hayes, who was playing linebacker with the Arizona Cardinals at the time.
Adams, 31, has a daughter, Maya, and says he can’t imagine not being a presence in her life. But he knows it’s not something to take for granted.
He was raised by his mother and grandmother in Paterson, about 20 miles from downtown Manhattan, where “the liquor stores stay open `til 2:30, 3 in the morning, everybody’s outside, hustling drugs.
“You see so much and are exposed to so much as a kid that you really shouldn’t see,” he said.
He concedes he got caught up in some bad stuff, as well.
“You kind of don’t know any better,” he said. “It’s hard to find role models around there.”
The first time Adams met his father was five years ago at a funeral. A friend of his pointed across the room to a man Adams had never seen. That man, the friend said, was his dad.
“Weird. Awkward,” Adams called his first, and only, meeting with his dad.
But also a key moment for him.
“It strengthened me to do more in the community,” he said. “My mother and my grandmother raised me. The kids around there, they don’t see a lot of positives. My goal, as I see it, is to try to give them something new to see.”
LINK: Rising Stars Foundation
By EDDIE PELLS, AP National Writer
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