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Can Clean Parks Lead To A Safer Austin? Former NFL Players Give Back

By Andrea V. Watson | November 18, 2016 10:34am
 Garrett Wolfe, a former Chicago Bears running back, helps rake leaves at Hubbard Park in Austin on Thursday.
Garrett Wolfe, a former Chicago Bears running back, helps rake leaves at Hubbard Park in Austin on Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

AUSTIN — Former Chicago Bears running back and Austin native Garrett Wolfe made time to return to his old neighborhood and lend a hand Thursday.

The third-round pick in the 2007 NFL draft grabbed a rake and helped clean up Hubbard Playlot Park at 4942 W. Hubbard St.

Wolfe said a lot has changed in the West Side neighborhood that played a key role in his upbringing.

“It wasn’t just my mother and father, but it was the accountability and respect I had for other parents who lived on the block,” he said. “I think a lot of that may be lost in some of the communities like Austin, and that foundation needs to be reinstilled."

Serving as a mentor in a new anti-violence initiative for 15- to 20-year-olds, "Touchdown Score: Keeping Our Communities Safe & Clean" is one way Wolfe hopes to help lay that foundation.

He was joined by former Chicago Bears wide receiver Rashied Davis and Corey Mays, a former linebacker for the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs who was born in Chicago and attended Morgan Park High School.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and the Austin-based nonprofit, Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, who partnered to create the initiative, and other community members also took part in the cleanup.

Nine-year-old Javaris Fisher said he enjoys volunteering. [Photo/Andrea V. Watson]

They kicked off the initiative at the park. Neighbors were invited to come and join.

Community members help clean up Hubbard Park Thursday. [Photo/Andrea V. Watson]

Mitts said this initiative is important to her because a lot of people are afraid to use the park because of past shootings. She hopes they change their attitude once the park is consistently cleaned, she said.

“This gives us an opportunity to talk to the people in the neighborhood,” Mitts said. “For those in the homes afraid, maybe they will see us out and want to get involved."

Colin Longworth, director of the charity Home Team Closet, which works with pro athletes, said he will continue bringing current and former athletes to the community each month.

“I’m proud of all these guys,” he said. “They’re committed to community improvement. It’s easy to talk and show up at gala Downtown. It’s easy to talk the game, but come to the 'hood and help out.”

Longworth said having former pro athletes help out in the neighborhood will draw young people and help instill community pride in them, indirectly helping to curb violence.

“It’ll take a little time, but we’re hopeful that we can really make a difference,” he said.

Derrick House, outreach worker with Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, said the chance to meet and see the former pro athletes at work in the neighborhood provides a great role-modeling opportunity for youths.

“A lot of the young men and ladies want to know the players, so when they meet them they’re excited,” he said. “This shows them the players care about the community so they should care about their own community as well.”

Nine-year-old Javaris Fisher came out with his grandmother. He said he likes volunteering.

“I like helping people because we all come together,” he said.

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