For Ray Rice, hosting a football camp is more than just a way to teach local kids about the fundamentals of football. He sees the workout as a way for him to meet young athletes and impart lessons that can impact their lives, both on and off the field.
Jaylen is just one of the many children that the Ravens running back has been able to reach over the years. When first meeting him at a summer youth camps, Rice knew there was something special about this boy.
"Everybody wanted to do what this kid did," Rice recalls. "I was one of those kids, too. If I wanted to jump over something, everyone else wanted to jump, too. That's how this kid was."
Recognizing all of Jaylen's potential, Rice took him under his wing. He helped channel his energy into something positive – sports.
"He was young and had so much energy." Rice continued. "I started visiting him, and it was like he had someone to relate to, and I became a mentor to him. Now, he's doing really well in sports."
The football star has been donating his time to help young people, just like Jaylen, in his hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y., since he was a child. As a high school athlete, he realized the impact he could have on younger generations that looked up to him.
"When I started working with kids, I realized that they were drawn to me. They automatically attached to me. I was in high school – ¬ I was not a professional athlete ¬ – ¬ and they already thought I was a big superstar."
A New Calling
Rice quickly discovered he had a passion for mentoring. Now, as a professional athlete, he still embraces every opportunity he gets to interact with students back home. As a mentor, the 24 year old is able to offer some guidance that, if given by a parent or teacher, may fall on deaf ears. The importance of school work and taking care of responsibilities are just some of the messages he stresses to kids at various camps and speaking events. Being able to tell personal stories helps the youngsters relate to him and the message he is trying to convey.
"Usually after I'm done [talking to] a group of kids, they feel comfortable enough to ask me questions," he explains. "They feel comfortable enough to know that I was just like them. I stood in their shoes, and I did a lot of the things growing up that these young kids are doing right now. I want them to understand that I also had obstacles in my life that I had to overcome."
Like Mother, Like Son
Growing up, Rice and his family did not have a lot. However, that did not stop him from lending a helping hand to others whenever he could. Whether it was working at a youth summer camp for some extra money, or just helping a friend master some new football techniques, he always found opportunities to share with other people.
"For me, to be as blessed as I am, it's almost like it's my calling to bless others," Rice said. "Whether it's with donations or by sharing my time, I feel it's a blessing for me."
As an adult, giving came naturally for Rice, because it was something that was regularly a part of his life. His mother, Janet, always held jobs that allowed her to help others ¬ – ¬ first at a day care and then in the local school district as a teacher for children with special needs. The self-proclaimed "mama's boy," says that she has been an example of how to serve others his whole life.
"She's an instant magnet, and she's small but powerful," Rice says with a smile. "People attract to her and her ways. I definitely got that people-way from her. I watched it [my whole life]."
Seeing the way his mom gave to her students day after day was an inspiration to her oldest son. Ray recalls that she did not view her job as work. Instead, the teacher saw her students as part of the family – ¬ her kids. That willingness to give to these children, as if they were her own, showed the future Raven how powerful helping others could be.
"Seeing how she's blessing those kids … These are her kids," the proud son states. "She did a great job [raising] me, and now it's time for her to help someone else. She's helping special-needs kids, and they love her."
Caring For The Community
"You know, they say it takes a village to raise a child," Rice explains. "Well, I'm a product of New Rochelle. Anybody that I've come into contact with impacted my life in some way. They've all played a part in what I'm doing today."
Even though Baltimore is more than 200 miles away from his hometown, the New York native's first priority is to take care of the children that are still there. While it's hard for him to get back during the season, he makes sure to keep in contact with the kids he meets and to help however he can. One way Rice does this is by giving out his cell phone number to parents so that they can contact him if they are having a hard time communicating with their child.
"I tell them, 'You call me if something comes up,' and I'll get a call: 'Can you please talk to Jaylen? His head is not in the right place.' Sometimes I feel like I'm their outlet; they feel like I can get through to them. I'm no parent to these kids, but they feel like I can impact their lives."
The personal relationship that Rice is able to create with those that he meets is just one of the ways he is able to make such a difference in the lives of others. During the offseason, he likes to go home as much as possible, and he is known for making surprise appearances at his old high school, just to stop by and check in with some of the students that he has met over the years.
Still The Same Old Ray
Professionally, Rice has accomplished goals of which many only dream. He earned a scholarship to play Division I football at Rutgers University, where he starred in the backfield. The Ravens selected him in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and he earned a 2009 Pro Bowl berth. But throughout all his success, his attitude has never changed. He still prepares diligently for every game. He still takes advantage of every opportunity to better himself. He still is aware of the impermanence of his career and easily lists all the ways that football has enhanced other aspects of his life.
"I use football as a tool of life," the Pro Bowler explains. "It's time management, it's balance, it's taking care of your responsibilities. If you apply that to life, then they're a parallel."
Even as a professional athlete, Rice has never forgotten where he came from and the path that led him to the NFL. Despite all his success, he takes pride in being the same person he was as a kid in New Rochelle.
"I don't want them to say, 'The NFL changed him,'" said Rice. "I hope they are able to say, 'He was a great football player, but an even better person.'"