Draft, Foundation Honored for Service to St. Louis
When St. Louis Alderman Jeffery Boyd heard that Rams linebacker Chris Draft wanted to host a community clean up event in his ward following his signing with the Rams in 2007, he asked himself a question.
Alderman Boyd, who is not a huge sports fan, had never heard of Chris Draft. He really wasn’t comfortable with the idea of a sports celebrity using his 22nd Ward for a photo opportunity when they were in need of real help.
That help, along with a dose of leadership and a lot of inspiration came to Barrett Brothers Park with No. 52 back in 2007. That is why last week, two years after the cleanup event, Alderman Boyd honored Draft with a resolution at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen meeting, thanking Draft for his commitment to Gateway city.
“The resolution, in my mind, was a way to honor the selfless service that Chris has provided to the city of St. Louis since he’s been here,” Boyd said.
When Draft came to St. Louis, he wanted to accomplish something. Sure, he’d have loved to have paraded down Market Street in a convertible, hoisting the silver Vince Lombardi trophy, but he wanted much more than that. He wanted to bring a community together, empowering families through the Chris Draft Family Foundation.
He spent two years serving the city of St. Louis, accomplishing that goal as best as he could. From hosting charity fundraisers to visiting schools to distributing water during the harsh summer months, Draft made an impact throughout the community, inspiring people everywhere he and the foundation went.
“(The resolution) was recognition of the commitment that the foundation has shown to the St. Louis community since the beginning,” Draft said. “There’s no way that I could accomplish the things that we’ve been able to do by myself. So, it’s recognition of all staff members, volunteers, board members, all of the people that have bought into what we’ve been talking about - empowering families to live healthier lifestyles – along with the initiatives.”
It came as a big shock to the city when the St. Louis Rams decided to end their relationship with the linebacker before the start of the 2009 NFL regular season.
“I was deeply saddened when I heard he was no longer going to be a Ram and possibly leaving St. Louis,” Boyd said. “I thought that it was only fitting that we honor him in some way for his service, especially with the support he’s given us in the 22nd Ward.”
Just because Draft may be on his way to the sixth city in his NFL career, it doesn’t mean that he’s going to pack up his foundation efforts in St. Louis and never return. Draft’s goal is to continue to return to the places he’s called home and reinforce his message to those communities.
“One of the things we’ve been working on with this foundation is to create advisory groups in every city that we’ve been to,” Draft said. “These advisory boards really help us maintain a presence in the community. The Chris Draft Family Foundation is not about us. It’s always about the community that we work in. So, to be able to have folks from that community that are in touch with that community, that allows everything we’re doing to be able to continue.”
Settling in St. Louis
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Draft’s impression on Boyd changed his perception of professional athletes.
After hearing about the tragic shooting death of St. Louis Police Officer Norvell Brown in 2007, Draft wanted to do something for the community to remind them to stay strong and stay together. He wanted to initiate a cleanup effort of Barrett Brothers Park, the site of the shooting.
Boyd was skeptical. The 22nd Ward was hurting and needed help and hope, not a one-time PR opportunity for a professional athlete. When he had the chance to talk with Draft, he became a little more comfortable. When the event came together, and he saw Chris and the Draft family helping out, talking and working with kids from his ward, he became a true believer.
Draft, along with several Rams players and kids from the 22nd Ward cleaned up Barrett Brothers Park, picking up trash and recycling. For their efforts, Chris arranged for Pepsi to donate tickets for each kid and their family to head to an upcoming Rams game, along with a $10 coupon for food and drinks at the concession stand.
“These kids that have probably never had a chance to go to a game before not only got to go, but were able to get something to eat while they were there,” Boyd said. “That is awesome. That was my first impression of Chris Draft and what he did for our community. That will be forever with me, just because it was a day spent cleaning up the community and saying ‘this is my community, this is your community, this is our community, and we can take better care of it.’”
As Boyd hoped, the cleanup event wasn’t a one-shot deal. Draft made it an annual event and stayed committed to the 22nd Ward, continuing to do what he could to bring that section of St. Louis together.
Draft also brought together two things that may seem like polar opposites, football and dance. When Julie Kruempel and Dance St. Louis were looking for some assistance to market their ‘Most Beautiful Sport in the World’ campaign, they found the help they needed in No. 52.
Kruempel wasn’t sure she was even going to be able to get a football player to help. All she needed was someone to shoot a quick marketing video and photos. Like Boyd, she, too, thought that’s all it would be, and she’d never hear from the player again. One more time, Draft completely changed someone’s opinion of professional athletes.
“He dispelled a myth for me that any sports celebrity may talk the talk, but Chris totally walks the walk before he even starts the talk,” Kruempel said. “He knew that he wanted to help people, and he just utilized the opportunities that he had in St. Louis through the whole sports philanthropy directive and use that for good.”
Kruempel was so impressed with Draft that she began volunteering with the Chris Draft Family Foundation, and was in attendance when Draft received the resolution honoring him for his service and commitment to St. Louis.
“It was very heartwarming and inspirational,” Kruempel said. “It’s such a loss for everyone, for him not to be playing here anymore. I know that his work is not done, and he’ll continue to do things in the places that he’s had an opportunity to call home, which are all so much better off because of that.”
The Foundation Continues
No matter how big or how small, whenever Chris Draft had an opportunity to be involved in the St. Louis community, he jumped at it. He visited about every public school in the city, teaching them the value of character. He hosted his annual Draft Family Fitness Day event at the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls club, inspiring families to lead healthier lives. He took groups of rookies to visit the troops at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. He inspired thousands across the St. Louis area to be involved in their community.
“The whole point of the foundation is not to do something that just happens in one day, but to be a catalyst for something that will continue and allow us to come back and reinforce those things along the way,” Draft said.
Draft may no longer be a part of the St. Louis Rams, but that certainly will not stop him from being involved in the community. Don’t think that because his days in blue and gold may have come to an end that you won’t see him around. You will, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.