*Editor's Note: The NFLPA Community MVP recognizes players who are making a positive impact in their local communities. Each week, the NFLPA celebrates one player who recently demonstrated his commitment to giving back to his community, and makes a donation to the player's foundation or cause in support. This week's #CommunityMVP is Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker for hosting his 1st Annual Delanie Walker Gives Back Turkey Bowl for the Renewal House, which helps single mothers who have dealt with substance abuse issues get back on their feet. *
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Delanie Walker, starting tight end for the Tennessee Titans, is in his ninth NFL season and knows he has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. It was not an easy road, and he owes much of his success to the hard work and sacrifices of his mother, a woman of immense importance in his life.
"My mom was a single mother and worked two jobs to provide for our family while we were growing up," Walker told NFLPA.com.
He took the holiday opportunity to give back to mother's who, like his own mother, had no one to lean on while balancing jobs, children, and other obstacles.
On Tuesday, Walker held his 1st Annual Delanie Walker Gives Back Turkey Bowl at the East Park Community Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The event was sponsored by Walker's own Delanie Walker Gives Back Foundation for the residents of the Renewal House, a program for single mothers who struggle from addiction and mental health issues. It is a family-centered treatment program that allows mothers, alongside their children, to get back on their feet and start a new life.
"We selected the Renewal House because I believe in the work they do with mothers overcoming addiction," Walker said. "It's important to me that they keep the families together and provide housing while providing treatment."
The event brought 16 families from the Renewal House together, joined by Walker and other Titans players for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner followed by fun, football related activities. For Walker, the opportunity to serve as a positive role models was an invaluable experience. With a family of his own, he can relate to the mothers on a personal level.
"These moms all want the same things for their families as anyone else," he said. "A safe place to call home, good futures for their kids. I can absolutely relate to that because I want the same thing for my family now."
Following the thanksgiving dinner, games included a football toss and pin the football on the field (a variation of pin the tail on the donkey), after which the participants were awarded prizes. Other activities involved coloring turkey cut outs, decorating sugar cookies, and a "Pom Pom Corner" where participants could pick up their favorite color Pom Pom and make up their best cheer. There was also a photo booth for the families to take pictures with Walker, to be printed out and delivered to them at the Renewal House.
When asked about his favorite part of the event, Walker answered unequivocally.
Tight end Delanie Walker hosts single mother families for holiday meal and flag football. (Photos: Joshua Love)
"The kids. It was all about the kids for me," he said. "Seeing the smiles on their faces and getting to talk with them about school, believing in themselves, and following their dreams. A lot of the moms were Titans fans and that was cool to see."
"It's rewarding to know that our team can provide joy to the families at Renewal House."
Walker hopes to work with the Renewal House again in the future.
He has a long history of community involvement associated with a variety of causes. He is widely known for his association with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), a partnership that began following a shocking personal tragedy.
Walker spent the 2013 season with the 49ers, a year which culminated in a Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens. But the Super Bowl is not what Walker remembers the most about that season. Hours after the loss, he received devastating news; his aunt and uncle, who had traveled to New Orleans to support Walker, had been killed by a drunk driver.
Walker's Aunt Alice was especially close to Walker, a loving presence in his home growing up. He vowed to use his story to make people more aware of the dangers of drunk driving. As Walker says, it always seems to be the people doing the right thing who suffer the most.
Since that tragedy, Walker has held many events in support of MADD, including signed memorabilia functions, dinner events, and he has led teams for annual MADD support walks in San Francisco. Alice and Brian Young left behind eight children, whom Walker has pledged to help and support. He has advocated for the installation of an ignition interlock device for first-time DUI offenders.
Walker is also known for his work with inner-city youth and at risk children. While in San Francisco, he often made visits across the Bay Area to share his story and provide positive reinforcement to youths who are growing up in the same adverse situations that he did.
When he joined the Titans in 2013, he continued with the spirit of mentoring youth, and recently participated as a panelist for the YWCA of Nashville & Middle Tennessee's A Call to Coaches. The goal of the panel is to explore ways for young coaches and mentors to develop and promote positive, healthy, and respectful life decisions in young men and boys.
"It's important to remember we all share responsibility in making sure Nashville's young people grow up the right way and not turn our back on people who need a little more help," he said.
No matter the city he is playing in, Walker identifies a need and embraces the opportunity to help. He embodies the values of a community MVP.
"I want to try to help organizations that might not always be getting the most attention or funding but are doing very important work," Walker said.
To donate and learn more about the Delanie Walker Gives Back Foundation, please click here.