At-Risk Youth Meet with 49ers

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The San Francisco 49ers Foundation teamed with Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY) on Monday to teach the youth at the Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall how to channel their negative energy into positive activities, such as exercise, through the innovative program that helps to stop the cycle of crime in young peoples' lives. The focus of the day was on frustration management, with the key message of the event being respect for families, schools, and the community.

After a tour of the facilities, 49ers running back Anthony Dixon, wide receiver Joshua Morgan and linebacker Parys Haralson began the program with a very open and honest Q&A session with the female residents of the juvenile hall. No questions were off limits as the players allowed the ladies to fire away with their inquiries regarding personal experiences, including what inspires them most.

"For me, I'm a momma's boy, so I do a lot of things to please my mom and my family," Haralson said. He then turned the floor over to the ladies, asking what it is that motivates them, while explaining that when it comes to inspiration, everybody is inspired by something.

"Whatever that thing is that inspires you, that makes you want to go that extra yard or extra inch or whatever may be to get it accomplished, I always want to know what it is in somebody else that makes them do what they do," he said.

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After the motivational exchange, the players moved to the boys' section of the facility.  From there, it was time for the games to begin. In order to put the message of respect and positive frustration management into action, the players led the male residents outdoors to participate in PLAY 60 drills. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the youth to practice football with the guys who do it for a living.

Youth Football Coordinator Jared Muela explained the importance of focusing energy in a positive direction through the football drills of the day.

"When you're stressed out or when you're faced with adversity, you have options on how to release that tension, and how to cope with it," he said. "For people who have a lot of success athletically, like our players do, their outlet and means to compress is through sports. If kids don't have the opportunity to develop those tools, they're not aware that's really an option for them; therefore, they lash out in other ways that get you in trouble and end you up here. So what we're trying to do is build that tool box for them, and give them different ways to be able to cope with what life offers them."

Susie Rivera, director of High Touch Programs at FLY, has been involved since the inception, and was still blown away by the impact of the day's events. She discussed the value of FLY's partnership with the 49ers Foundation and the powerful influence it has on the at-risk youth.

"We get to see the youth brainstorm different ways of dealing with stress and that there's a different path for them to take in the community," she said. "It's so valuable to have the players and the foundation here, and for our kids to know there are people that care about them, and that they have the opportunity to make something of themselves in the future."

The youth had the opportunity to connect with the players, who serve as positive role models, while also gaining a sense of hope. Once they realized that many of them come from similar backgrounds, they achieved that sense that they too are able to set goals and reach them. Susie Rivera recalls one of the most powerful moments of the day, when Dixon openly shared his struggles growing up, while instilling the importance of being thankful for life, and never giving up on your dreams.

 "It was amazing because one youth said, 'what do you mean money struggles? Don't you play for the Niners?'" Rivera said. "And Anthony shared his story, saying, 'I'm talking about before when I was homeless and grew up in poverty.' To see the look on the youth's face was amazing, and it was really great to hear Anthony's story and how he knew from the time he was a baby that he wanted to play football, so he never stopped or let anybody get in his way."

Dixon enjoyed spending the day motivating and encouraging the youth to succeed. He felt it was his duty to make sure he was as genuine and honest with them as he could be, ensuring them that they could overcome hardship, as he has done himself.

"I just wanted to try and instill a little faith in them, a little positive energy," Dixon said. "It seemed like some of them were losing hope when I was talking to them so I was like, you know what, just be thankful that you can wake up in the morning. I was homeless before and didn't have a bed, so just be thankful for the little things and realize when you wake up in the morning that you have the opportunity to make things happen."

Dixon also expressed to the youth the importance of channeling their negative energy into positive, such as sports. "Take it in a different direction and channel it through the football," he said. "You don't need to get into gangs or fist fights—I didn't do that. Just stay upbeat and a lot of good things can happen."

Morgan's story was equally powerful, focusing on the strength that he and his teammates in college at Virginia Tech mustered to channel their anger and frustration into football, creating a positive and uplifting environment for students devastated by the massacre on campus in 2007.  He also shared his personal mantra of "no excuses," telling the young men that they shouldn't let the things that happen to them that are negative define them.  Instead, said Morgan, "You need to take those bad things and let them make you into a better person."

Dixon said his goal of the day was to spread a little bit of the happiness he carries around with him on a day to day basis, and to spread the sunshine around like he loves to do. He, Morgan, and Haralson's mission was certainly completed, as the youth ran their drills with smiles on their faces and a glimmer of hope in their eyes.

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