Bears wide receiver Devin Aromashodu remembers the first football player he ever met. It was the late 1980s in Miami, and Dan Marino, in the midst of a Hall-of-Fame career with the Dolphins, was a god on the gridiron.
“It made me want to play football, and I realized it was important to stay on the right track if I wanted to get there,” Aromashodu says.
So he told himself-and anyone else who would listen-that when he made it to the pros, he’d pass along the message. The 24-year-old made good on that promise this fall when he teamed up with the Chicago Housing Authority to take 25 kids shopping for school supplies.
The kids were at the top of their class in CHA’s Learn& Earn summer program. Each received a $200 Target gift card-and the chance to spend it alongside Aromashodu at the South Loop store.
“I always knew once I made it, I wanted to give back to my community,” he says.
That community has changed through the years-Aromashodu has played for five teams in his four years in the NFL-but he’s built a home in Chicago, which signed him in December 2008. “I’m here in Chicago and things have been going well … so it was time to do something,” he says.
Aromashodu contacted the public housing agency last summer, a summer that saw a disturbing spike in youth violence. He wanted to highlight kids who were thriving despite the turbulence, says Haleemah Nash, CHA’s youth programming director, who called the gesture “an incredible leadership move.”
“These kids walked away with not just a photograph and a story to tell their friends, but with the feeling that someone they look up to believes in them,” she says.
Aromashodu knows a lot of kids are watching him on Sundays and says he hopes to inspire them on Monday mornings, too.
“I hope it helps them continue to work hard in school, and lets them know that they’ll be rewarded for doing good things.”