While playing 14 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, native Texan, Hall of Fame inductee and Super Bowl-winning wide receiver Donald Driver (#80) made a difference on the field.
Now, as a Houston resident and founder of the Donald Driver Foundation — and recently appointed Chief Impact Officer for Dallas-based Listeners On Call — Driver is making a difference off his beloved football field.
What was it like growing up?
As one of five children growing up in inner-city Houston and being raised by a single parent, my mother, we struggled with homelessness and food security. We were living in U-Haul trucks and in and out of hotels, and there were days where my mom didn’t eat at all. I was exposed to drugs and violence, and eventually was sent to live with my grandparents in seventh grade. That came with its own challenges because I didn’t have a great relationship with my grandfather.
At a young age, I knew I was the only one who could turn things around for myself and made a promise to myself that I would get an education, get a good job and be able to provide for myself and future family.
I was the first in my family to attend college and graduate, and am continuing to have a successful career after my time spent in the NFL.
Tell us about the Donald Driver Foundation, especially during this month’s focus on Mental Health Awareness.
The focus of my foundation is on working to find families who have gone through a difficult period, and helping them take the necessary steps to regain control of their lives. We believe in giving a “hand up,” not a “hand out.”
Our families are carefully selected in conjunction with shelters and counselors who have helped them on this journey. We have been fortunate enough to reach out to several families in Wisconsin and Texas, and support local youth through free annual training camps, meals and scholarships.
Why did you join up with Dallas-based Listeners On Call?
My partnership with Listeners On Call comes from my passion to see that real-life empathy is accessible to everyone. I see this as the key to unlocking the potential for greatness in all of us. Together we are working to remove the barriers that separate individuals from meaningful conversation.
Talking to someone that has been through a similar situation as it enables you to see the pitfalls and road bumps before you ever get to them. For example, if someone is struggling in a relationship and they are trying to work through their struggle, it would benefit them to talk to someone that has been through a divorce and hear what they wish they had done differently.
It helps to talk to someone that has been there and can help you gain perspective due to their knowledge and experience. With Listeners On Call, everyone has access to that safe haven. We all need that person to call, and I am so glad to support a company that is providing that.
Out of all your accolades, which one means the most to you and why?
I have held many titles and received amazing honors, but the title that means the most to me is “son.” Family is most important to me and what I hold dearest. My mom never judges me, and she always lends a listening ear. So, I am most proud to be called her son.
For many years, football was your passion. Your passion now seems to be investing in people’s lives. How does your family support your efforts?
When it comes to making an investment in people’s lives, my wife and children share my sentiments fully. In fact, my son Cristian and I recently partnered with Milwaukee-based leather outfitter Moral Code to design a new line of shoes. Five styles are used in the partnership, and a part of the proceeds will go to my foundation to fund career and youth growth programs for underprivileged children and families.
What are some keys that have helped you overcome life’s fears and frustrations?
In multiple stages of my life I have struggled with feeling overwhelmed. I tend to isolate and keep to myself during these seasons, so I’ve had to work to push past that my whole life. When I was growing up and dealing with homelessness and family struggles, I turned to my teachers and coaches.
And, of course, my mom has always been someone that I call when I struggle. She was the person that would listen when I was young and did bad on a test or on the field. Then she was also the person that would listen even as I moved onto college and the NFL.
The best thing about how my mom listened, was that she never told me what to do. And I think that is why I connected to the concept of Listeners On Call. She was always that sounding board and gave me space to just let it all out but didn’t direct me. She let me find my path, and it made me feel safe in always coming back to her to talk.
Your mom is clearly very important to you…
My mom is my whole heart, and right now one of the biggest stressors I am dealing with is her battle with cancer and repeated strokes. I have always tried to be the one to take care of everyone and I can’t fix this, so it can be overwhelming for me. This is a perfect example of what I connect with a Listener On Call for. I think that we all need someone to talk to and connect with. Sharing a moment of support with someone else can completely change someone’s day.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
Cover photo courtesy Listeners On Call
Bob Valleau is a freelance writer living in McKinney, Texas.