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Torrey Smith is Changing Lives Through His Non-profit Organization

"How do I get college coaches to notice me?" reads a text on Torrey Smith's phone.

It's for just this reason that the San Francisco 49ers wide receiver got a second mobile device. The message came from a high school football player who'd recently attended Smith's first ever "L.E.V.E.L. (Leadership, Education, Vision, Effort, Love) Teen Summit."

Smith hosted 31 at-risk boys over the summer at his alma mater, the University of Maryland, for a weekend of mentorship and constructive workshops. Each presentation focused on character building, decision-making, leadership and goal setting. Students were handpicked by their high school counselors as individuals who could particularly benefit from Smith's attention. 

At the conclusion of the camp, each kid received Smith's phone number to ensure that the progress made over the three-day span wouldn't fall by the wayside. Of the 30 teenagers in attendance, 15 still regularly contact Smith. 

"I talk to them about things they'll face. I want to help them become better men and better leaders," Smith said. "I'm trying to be an extra support system for them. The best way to make that real change is to alter their future."

The texts and phone calls cover a wide spectrum of topics with varying severity. From issues at home to problems in the classroom, Smith serves as a resource and a sounding board. The role suits Smith's primary belief when serving others – that time is far more valuable than money.

Smith's ultimate goal is to provide teens with the knowledge and means to accomplish their dreams. That starts with instilling proper values and work ethic with a substantial emphasis on making the right decisions.

The unfortunate reality is that potential pitfalls are always within an arms reach for students growing up in the embattled areas of Baltimore.

"We want to literally save lives," Smith said. "You can make a wrong decision and end up dead or in jail. I think that's a win. We see it. One kid at a time, it's a big accomplishment. I know that making the right decision isn't easy."

Smith's willingness to keep in contact with the students that he mentors shows that the receiver's motives genuine – an attribute that is vitally important to Smith.

"You want people to know that you really care about them," Smith said. "You're not doing it for attention. You're not doing it for notoriety. You're doing it because you care, and it's the right thing to do.

"That means more than anything, when they can feel that, when they can sense that. That's why I think we're able to be successful because it's genuine in what we do. The love is real."

And it doesn't take long for even the most skeptic teenager to realize that the professional athlete has already walked countless miles in their shoes.

Smith, too, is a Baltimore native. The 27-year-old's current status as a professional athlete is a stark contract from his less-than-affluent upbringing. Students quickly gather that Smith was just like them. And if anything, being in the NFL doesn't distance himself from the kids, but serves as tangible proof that anything is possible.

"You can't let your circumstances define you. You can't control what goes on at home. But you can control your attitude, your effort and making the right decisions."

View images of the wide receiver's extensive work in the community, which earned him his nomination for the 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Smith grew up as the eldest of seven children (four brothers and two sisters). His mom, Monica Jenkins, and grandmother, Mary Smith, were responsible for raising the house full of hungry mouths. Smith was the primary male figure.

It's easy to relate to those in need when you grew up in comparable circumstances. Compassionate souls would donate a turkey each year so that Smith and family would have a Thanksgiving feast. Strangers would adopt Smith's family around the holidays and deliver gifts to put under the tree.

When money was tight, caring individuals would provide Smith with the funds to join local sports leagues.

"The people who were willing to lend a helping hand to my family, I knew how much it meant for them to use the kindness of their hearts to help us," Smith said. "People made sure I wasn't missing out on anything. It meant a lot to me, and it had a great impact on my life." 

Smith adopted his selflessness from his mother. No matter how rough his family had it, someone always had it worse. Jenkins knew that. Her benevolent nature led to her boundless generosity.

She'd give others food and clothes – two items that Jenkins struggled at times to bring home for her own family even with working multiple jobs.

"If there was someone else out there who was in need, she was always willing to help them," Smith said of his mother.

Smith became an active member in the community as soon as middle school. He made regular trips to retirement homes, visited children in the hospital and picked up trash. Smith continued his philanthropic ways through high school and into his days at Maryland.

That's when he met Chanel Williams, his future wife and sidekick in the community. Williams ran track for the Terrapins and was in pursuit of a joint degree in elementary education and sociology. Together, they started the "Torrey Smith Foundation" as they neared graduation and it became clear that Smith was NFL bound. 

"I knew that if I was in a position to use my platform to help others, I would," Smith said. "I was just as excited about that as I was to have the opportunity to play. The game only goes so far."

A celebrity basketball game, an annual contest Smith still hosts today, was the foundations first fundraiser. Back to school events, scholarships and a collection of "Torrey Smith Reading Oases" at select elementary schools soon followed. Serving underprivileged families with meals and gifts during the holidays is another staple.

Chanel's fundamental contributions towards the foundation led to Smith changing its name to the "Torrey Smith Family Fund."

"She's the backbone of our family," the wide receiver said. "It's rare to find someone where you're so in-sync with everything. Her commitment to the community is just as big or bigger than mine. Her education background helps so much. We're able to feed off of each other so much and figure out what to do with our foundation."

The next order of business was for Chanel and Torrey to think bigger. Rather than improve someone's day, how could they change the course of their life? That line of thinking led to the inaugural teen summit.

"The holiday stuff is awesome, but that's for one day, one moment," Smith said. "So how can we change someone's life and help them see something different that might alter their life in a lot of ways?"

The 49ers staff, players along with Convoy of Hope came together to provide groceries, haircuts, clothing, toys and much more at an event at Levi's Stadium.

There will be more weekend retreats at what Smith refers to as, "the greatest college in the world." The 49ers wideout hopes the number of students increases annually, with the focus on a single high school each year.

"I want to get across that I'm just like them, and if I can do it, they can do it, too," Smith said.

It comes as no surprise that Smith's exemplary work has earned him San Francisco's nomination for the 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. This marks the third time Smith has been selected for the prestigious accolade. The Ravens nominated Smith twice (2013-14) during his four seasons in Baltimore.

"I think it's always an accomplishment to be recognized by your team and to be associated with Walter Payton," Smith said. "It's a great honor."

The winner will be announced at NFL Honors on Feb. 3 in Houston, the Friday before Super Bowl LI. Smith has a chance to be the second straight 49ers player to claim the award after Anquan Boldin won it in 2015.

"Football is one thing, but this says a lot about your commitment off the field," Smith said. "I take a lot of pride in both. One is not greater than the other. I appreciate it."

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