Johnson gaining recognition for community work

HOUSTON—Growing up poor in a tough section of Miami, Andre Johnson decided early on that he wanted to play professional football. He watched the NFL and dreamed of meeting a player.

That never happened for Johnson as a child, so soon after he joined the Houston Texans in 2003 he created a foundation to help underprivileged children and give them the opportunity he never had.

That foundation has grown in the past five years and Johnson has sponsored programs and given time and money to children in both Houston and Miami.

"I really didn't have a professional player come to my neighborhood and do different stuff for the neighborhood," he said. "So I always said if I was to make it one day I just want to give back to the community."

Johnson's uncle Andre Melton, for whom he is named, has always encouraged his nephew to be involved in the community.

"That's how you can reach out and touch people," Melton said. "Sometimes athletes are distant from most people, but I want people to know he's a real person and make sure he understands that he's in a position to do some things and make some things happen. You can't save the world, but you can do your part."

Johnson, who leads the NFL with 955 yards receiving, said when he was first drafted he was struck by how much kids looked up to him.

"I think just me being able to meet kids period is special," he said. "People always say: 'You're a role model.' But we hate to look at ourselves as role models. But you would be surprised at how many kids really watch what you do on Sunday."

Johnson has been honored for his work as one of eight finalists for an award given by Home Depot called the NFL Neighborhood MVP. As a finalist his charity will receive $5,000 and the winner get $25,000 for his work. The winner, which is decided by online voting, will be announced during Super Bowl week.

Other finalists include Atlanta's Keith Brooking, Brian Dawkins of the Eagles, Detroit's Mike Furrey, Steve Smith of Carolina, Amani Toomer of the Giants, the Cardinals' Kurt Warner and Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten.

Johnson, who didn't know he was a finalist until informed by a reporter, was proud to be mentioned as one of the top players in the community.
"Not to just be mentioned as a football player but also for the things you do in the community," he said. "I've never been a person who felt like I really needed any recognition for what I do, but to have that happen though is a great honor."

Johnson isn't slowing down. He spent several hours on his day off earlier this week handing out turkeys and other fixings to needy families for Thanksgiving dinners. He joined teammates Dunta Robinson and DeMeco Ryans with help from a local grocery store chain to feed more than 700 families.

The food pantries in Galveston were depleted during Hurricane Ike so trucks from the island were sent to collect hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners to take back for distribution. Johnson, Ryans and Robinson didn't leave the hard work of loading the trucks to the scores of other volunteers at the event. The trio lugged dozens of bags loaded with two liter drinks and multi-pound turkeys to the truck and didn't sit down for a break until the last bag was done.

Johnson said helping out this year is even more important than in years past because of Ike and the current economic crisis.

"You wish there weren't any needy people," Johnson said. "You really don't like to see people in those situations, but that's life. And any way somebody can help, it's great. We are just very thankful for what we have and it's great just to bless someone else."