Former Steeler’s nonprofit draws support from USC company

As a typical Western Pennsylvania fourth-grader, Brayden Wells enjoys football.

“I like baseball more, though,” he’ll admit.

That is OK with former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Will Allen, as no matter what Brayden’s sports preference, he is helping to spread the word about the foundation that bears the retired athlete’s name.

For an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program at Upper St. Clair’s Streams Elementary School, Brayden highlighted the nonprofit organization’s work and its vision: “to provide a level playing field for all, allowing each individual to achieve his or her greatest success.”

“I like that he’s a football player and taking action, not thinking it’s all about him,” Brayden said about Allen and his efforts. “He thought about others, and how they need help.”

His interest in the Pittsburgh-based foundation, which Allen founded while playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, draws from the partnership the group is developing with Accion Labs Inc. in Upper St. Clair, where Brayden’s mother, Jennifer, is operations manager.

“Will Allen’s foundation lets us be actively involved,” she said. “We get to be part of it. It’s more than just, ‘Here’s a donation. We’re walking away. We did our part.’”

For example, she and others participated in a holiday giving program by helping to take underprivileged children shopping.

“We got to put a face with these kids, let them know, ‘Hey, here’s people I don’t know who are here. They care about me,’” Jennifer Wells said. “And Accion really loves it, because we have a lot of team members who love to be involved. They love community service, and they get excited.”

As do members of the Will Allen Foundation team.

“You don’t really understand that joy and power of what you’re doing until that actual day,” executive director Julius Boatwright, a Beechview resident, said about his participation in the holiday giving. “These kids are so full of life. They’re so vibrant and loving.”

He recalled one youngster asking if Boatwright was going to buy anything for himself, and then making this offer:

“I’ll use some of our money to get you something.”

As for Boatwright’s reaction?

“I about broke down and started crying right there. But I said, ‘No, buddy. This is for you, man,’” he said. “They may not have everything, but they already understand that value of giving. And that’s what it’s all about.”

In addition to the holiday giving, the Will Allen Foundation’s offerings include Quest for Real Life Success, a four-year extracurricular program to impact high school students; the Big Play, providing custom-made suits to young men to help them further their position in life; a free football skills enhancement camp; and Purposeful Act of Kindness, benefiting under-served communities in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In conjunction with the latter, the foundation is gearing up for distribution of Life PAKs, backpacks filled with school supplies and hygiene products, to children in need. Last year, the project served nearly 1,200 children.

“We want to give them – Jennifer and her folks at Accion, and any other community members that we collaborate with – a chance to be involved, to give the backpacks to the kids when we go to the schools,” Boatwright said. “It really is a magical experience.”

For more information about the Will Allen Foundation, visit willallenfoundation.com.