Anyone who has been fortunate enough to meet Jaguars linebacker Russell Allen knows he is someone who quietly goes about his business. Allen is friendly, sincere and engaging to everyone but is never one to boast about his accomplishments.
When asked about Allen, Jaguars linebackers coach Mark Duffner simply says, "He's a first class individual in every way."
Allen's definitely not going to tell you what he does for a living; well, unless you are someone he is trying to inspire.
So it should come as no surprise that Allen spent his rookie season visiting a local juvenile detention center monthly and sometimes several times a month. The center houses juveniles for crimes that range from weapon charges, assault and drug arrests.
He didn't coordinate the visits through the Jaguars; instead, working with a local pastor he met before he ever played in an NFL game. No one inside the stadium knew he was spending his down time making a difference with some of the most vulnerable youth in the area.
Allen met Celebration Church's local outreach pastor, John Scott, on one of the visits the 2009 draft class made as part of the Rookie Club. The two spoke briefly and a friendship formed. Due to security measures, Allen wasn't allowed to just show up at the center and talk to the residents. He had to go through an extensive background check which involved paperwork and meeting with local officials. The process can sometimes turn away people, but not Allen.
It's not that Allen didn't have enough on his plate, having worked for 12 straight months from his senior year right through a 16-game NFL season. He spent the early parts of the year preparing for a draft in which he wasn't selected before the Jaguars scooped him up in free agency. The former San Diego State standout not only made the roster, but played in all 16 games with five starts.
"He wanted to get involved with juveniles," Scott said. "Of all the rookies, he was there every month and sometimes twice a month. He was engaged and took the time. One of the first things he wanted to do was use his influence to help kids in the city."
Allen spent time talking to the residents in group sessions and also visited separately with the juveniles in isolation.
"One week he was there right after the Buffalo game and every kid just stopped and listened," Scott said. "He talked about believing in your dreams and he said last week that he tackled Terrell Owens on a slant across the middle and all of a sudden it hit that he was living his dream."
"He wanted to take that feeling to the kids and tell them that just because you are down and out doesn't mean your dreams are over. It doesn't mean you have to quit on yourself or your family."
Allen's message always centers on the people that believed in the children – whether it was family, friends or a local church. The goal is to get them back into society as a productive member of the local community.
"He always says if you don't have anyone then let us know, we'll find somebody," Scott said.
When the season concluded, Allen had a bit of personal business to attend to as he married his longtime girlfriend, Ali. Shortly after the honeymoon, Allen was back in Jacksonville in early March for another visit to the detention center. The average stay for most of the residents is a little over two weeks, so there was basically a new group on every visit.
Allen and Scott were standing in the parking lot at the center following a visit in March when Scott posed a question.
"What kind of difference do you want to make in this city this year?" Scott asked Allen.
Allen didn't hesitate.
"He told me he wanted to make an impact on kids that is a little bit more long-term," Scott said.
The two, along with Ali, visited several different foster group homes in the area including daniel ([http://www.danielkids.org](
http://www.danielkids.org) and Seamark Ranch (http://www.seamarkranch.com).
Daniel Memorial was established in 1884 and has developed a reputation as one of the nation's best at social services. According to the Florida Times Union, there are more than 2,500 foster children in Jacksonville. Allen has seen the statistics and has vowed to make a difference by becoming a male figure in their lives while inspiring and training more mentors to do the same.
Just take a look at the latest statistics from The Mentoring Project, a national movement that's helped Scott and Allen (http://www.thementoringproject.org/).
- 63 % of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
- 80% of all prison inmates grew up in fatherless homes.
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
Allen has been a fixture at daniel for the past four months where he has rallied over a dozen other adults to help him speak into the lives of the kids. Ali, who holds a degree in speech therapy from San Diego State, helps tutor children at the Seamark Ranch in Clay County.
"All the kids know him and love him," Scott said.
That was evident last week when Allen, with the help of several staff members at daniel, coordinated an end of year party for a group of 30 children from the home. He invited several of his teammates who showed up to play basketball, video games, football and several other games with the group.
He finally mentioned, in passing, to a Jaguars staffer about what he was planning. Players in attendance included Aaron Kampman, Sean Considine, Josh Scobee, Chris Harrington and Atiyyah Ellison.
Allen's determination to help these children and the inroads he has built with local organizations has rubbed off on his teammates – especially the younger players.
Rookie Larry Hart spent two hours on Monday at daniel talking to the group about his past and what he has learned. Harrington volunteers with his wife regularly at daniel's Mills House. Cornerback Derek Cox visited the Children's Home Society (http://www.chsfs.org) for several hours last week where he played video games and talked with three siblings who have bounced around the foster care system. Late last week, a package arrived at daniel with new Nike tennis shoes for all the children from an anonymous veteran player who is in his first season with the Jaguars.
Scott said the kids at daniel have bounced from foster home to foster home and have yet to find a community they call family. They look to Allen, the adult mentors he's bringing, and the other Jaguars as consistent figures in their lives.
According to an ABC News report, on average children stay in the foster care system for almost three years before either being reunited with their families or adopted. Almost 20 percent will wait five years or more. The report states that experts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of foster care placements can be traced to substance abuse.
"The average kid when they age out of the foster community will very likely go back to the family that the state took them away from," Scott said. "Those are the only relationships they have built that have been consistent. When you are going from house to house then you are changing schools. You don't get to keep any of your friends. All you know is your family that you got taken away from because of crimes, drugs or whatever else."
Allen was not interviewed for this story because he wouldn't want the attention, and because he wouldn't understand what all the fuss was about. He just sees it as doing what is right.
"He's just a great example to the younger players that one of the biggest gifts you can give your community can be your influence: one-on-one with kids that will listen," Scott said.