Saturday night brought Georgia Tech legend Calvin Johnson back near campus, as he hosted his annual fundraising dinner Saturday night at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center for his Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation.
The black-tie dinner honored the recipients of scholarships, a focal point of the non-profit’s services. The foundation awards $4,000 scholarships to six college-bound students who have played high-school football in either the Detroit or Atlanta area and also puts them through a leadership conference. It’s one of several initiatives of the foundation, founded in 2008.
Johnson spoke with the AJC before the dinner Saturday for a two-part Q&A about the foundation and life since his retirement in 2016.
Q: Since retiring, how much more time can you give?
A: Oh, man. I can give twice as much time, if not more than that, to this, no doubt about it. I’m here, I’m available during the times that I wasn’t, from April till the end of the year.
Q: What are some things you can do now with the foundation that you couldn’t before?
A: I think now I can probably reach out to more people. Maybe talk to more people about the foundation and our initiatives and raise more money. I think that’s the big goal right now, is raising more funds so we can possibly give the guys the same amount as the initial scholarship every year. We give the initial scholarship and then we give them book scholarship every other year. That’s the goal.
Q: How much time per week do you think you devote to the foundation?
A: Just the foundation? I don’t know, I’ve never tried to put numbers on it. I still have my own business besides the foundation and family, so I’ve never really tried to put a number to it.
Q: Do you have a favorite success story?
A: It’s really every year, you get to hear the story of these guys that we’ll hear tonight. They’re from different backgrounds, the struggle, whether it was financial or maybe they didn’t have a parent, and how they fought through it, and they ended up at the point where they are now today, with one of our scholarships.
Q: Is the scholarship program the main thrust of the foundation?
A: No doubt about it. We have other things that are very close and dear to the heart – feeding the homeless or even helping out Haven (a shelter for abused women in Michigan). There’s a lot of things that warm the heart. It just depends on the time of the year.
Q: How efficient are you able to be with donations that you receive?
A: It’s a 501-c-3, so the money that comes in eventually comes out. But most of the money goes into this right here, the scholarships that we give. The biggest thing, like I say, if we could really gather the funds where we’re giving that big scholarship every year, that’s ideally where we want to be at.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: I guess the camaraderie of those guys, seeing these guys come back year after year and still are in contact with each other. They maintain their relationships. So to see them making a community, hopefully one day, they can come and take over this thing and not, say, run it themselves, but, hey, you never know.
Q: What’s your wildest dream in regards to the future of the foundation?
A: My wildest dream? Getting to the point where people are donating to us so much, we have a problem trying to figure out where to put the money. That’s a good problem. You’ve got so many places where you’re able to have an impact – that’s a problem I wouldn’t mind having
Q: Do you reach out to former teammates?
A: Yep. (We) get some donations from teammates, business partners. But like I said, now I’ve just got to take advantage of my time and get out there and, everyone I speak to, spread the word.
Q: Why would people want to donate?
A: The biggest thing is the way we impact lives, the way we impact our youth. As I said. what you see here today one of our mainstays, our scholarship gala. The way we’re able to change lives from guys who might not have the goal-setting ability, we’re able to implement those skills into these guys, and that’s what we do with our workshops and our conference that we have with our scholars.
I think we’re helping a lot, whether it’s inspiring them to do great things maybe on the field or to do great things with the people that they meet at the conference, people that have had success in the field that these guys want to be in and having them teach them the tools of the trade.
For more information about the Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation, visit the website. The remainder of the interview will be posted Wednesday.
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