Adam Thielen is the community.
He's also the 2022 Minnesota Vikings Community Man of the Year and nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, the team and NFL announced Tuesday morning.
Thielen's story resonates from the forests along Lake Superior's North Shore to Southwest Minnesota's windswept farmlands and from his hometown of Detroit Lakes in Northwest Minnesota down to the state's southeastern tip that bids farewell to the Mississippi River.
The legend of a player who has become one of the greatest undrafted receivers in NFL history traveled well beyond Minnesota's borders into homes nationwide as he's climbed the franchise leaderboard.
He enters Week 14 with 520 career receptions (third in Vikings history), 6,546 receiving yards (fourth) and 52 touchdown catches (tied for third).
Thielen's legacy, however, is felt the strongest close to home.
Within cities, suburbs, exurbs and beyond, there are examples of Thielen's commitments.
View photos of WR Adam Thielen being honored as the Vikings 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Founded in 2018 by Adam and his wife Caitlin, Thielen Foundation has donated more than $2.5 million to community organizations, including a pledge this fall of $1 million to be shared among the following eight Minnesota nonprofit organizations:
V3 Sports — Promotes health, wellness, equity and opportunity through fitness and water safety
Nexus-Gerard Family Healing — Part of a national nonprofit network of mental health agencies with more than 50 years of restoring hope for thousands of children and families through mental health services
Children's Minnesota Hospital — Supports children's health through care, research and education
Urban Ventures — Reduces opportunity gaps in academics, nutrition and other resources
Second Harvest Heartland/Minnesota Central Kitchen — Reduces food insecurity
The Salvation Army, Twin Cities — A faith-based, comprehensive approach to meeting human needs
Masonic Children's Hospital — Thielen Foundation directly supports the hospital's behavioral health unit
Northside Achievement Zone — Strives to end generational poverty and build a culture of achievement in North Minneapolis
"Adam and Caitlin's commitment and willingness to give back and serve Minnesotans through the Thielen Foundation is truly inspiring," said Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf. "We are proud of Adam for the impact he has made on the community, and he is the best representation of what the Minnesota Vikings should stand for. We cannot thank him enough for his commitment to the organization, to the Twin Cities and to the entire state of Minnesota. He's extremely deserving to be our 2022 nominee for this impressive honor."
View photos of Vikings WR Adam Thielen through the years participating in Thielen Foundation events. Thielen has been nominated as the Vikings 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Just as Thielen has stacked workout after workout, practice after practice and game after game, he also has been steadfast in his interest in helping the lives of others.
As his capacity to do so has increased, he's been intentional about finding other needs to resolve. He and Caitlin have made sure to include their children, Asher, Hudson and Cora, in helping with philanthropic efforts.
His parents, Pete and Jayne, are prouder of what Thielen Foundation has done than the fact their son has joined Pro Football Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Randy Moss that Thielen grew up watching.
"It's funny, as a parent, you're always proud of your kids. I just think it's been kind of a gradual thing," Jayne said. "You'd start out with high school and college and moving to this, I'm not sure it's even hit us to where he's at, and I'm more proud of him off the field than even on the field. Because I love what he's been able to do and the impact he's even had on other players, or parents who have come to us and said how he's welcomed their kids onto the team.
"I love the leadership of it," Jayne added. "I don't know if you even realize as a parent that this is ever going to happen."
First-year Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, who at 37 is just five years older than Thielen, has valued Thielen's impact.
"You think about Adam Thielen the player, you think about what he's accomplished in this league, but you can see from – I mean, 31 other teams and their fan bases can see what kind of person this is. What kind of family he has," O'Connell said. "You might say, 'How is that even possible?'
"We go on the road, and … I've walked out of the tunnel – whether halftime or whatever it is – near Adam, and there's always someone there in a 19 jersey," O'Connell added. "And they're always, it's like they look at him like they look at themselves. 'Hey, if he can do what he was able to accomplish and … become an All-Pro caliber player, but he's even more than that for this community.' "
O'Connell said consistently being able to rely on Thielen has helped so much in his first year as an NFL head coach.
"Adam Thielen is consistent in the best possible ways. The human being, the teammate he is to these guys, the friend he's become to me and the guy that, shoot, he sees me sometimes at my lowest moments," O'Connell said. "Sometimes they're after wins, sometimes they're after losses, and I see Adam Thielen and he smiles at me and says, 'Coach, it's gonna be all right.' And that's when we're 10-2, so you can imagine what it would be like going the other way. But I say all that just to say, I absolutely love Adam Thielen.
"I haven't known him long, but it didn't take me long to fall in love with him – the person, the player – and then ultimately just learning more and more about what he means to this community and the special things he and Caitlin and their family have been able to do through the Thielen Foundation," O'Connell added. "It gives us the goal of trying to get a lot more Adam Thielens in this organization."
Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen noted Thielen's career "has been born of hard work and faith."
"Adam and Caitlin Thielen realize to whom much is given, much is expected," Allen said, "and it's very important to recognize that because you could hear it, read it or learn it, but does it truly get into your heart?
"There are thousands of people who have benefited from Adam and Caitlin's success, and that is a consistent nature of recognizing to whom much is given, much is expected," Allen added.
The Thielen Foundation, founded by Adam and Caitlin Thielen, donated shoes and supplies to Brooklyn Center High School students this week.
Friday Night Lights
In mid-October, Thielen drove his oldest son Asher, 6, to St. Paul Harding High School, which was hosting a game between Brooklyn Center and H-town (the nickname for Harding and Humboldt High Schools, which merged in 2021).
Asked by his son whom he wanted to win, Thielen replied, "I want both of them to win."
Called out by Asher's foundational understanding of the way sports competitions work (barring ties), Thielen laughed. He met with players from both teams, offering encouraging words before the kickoff.
While H-town prevailed on a night that included sunshine that grew distant and a rain that became colder with each drop, the truth is both programs have benefited from Thielen Foundation's efforts to help student athletes on the campuses achieve their full potential.
"ACHIEVE YOUR FULL POTENTIAL" is more than a motto for Thielen.
Those words are painted in bold letters on one wall of the recently revolutionized weight room at Humboldt High School in St. Paul and have been at the forefront of Thielen Foundation.
It's a way of life. A philosophy built on belief and work ethic he exemplifies daily and often extends to segments of the population that can feel ignored. Thielen believes in those who have felt unseen.
One of the earliest commitments was $100,000 to the behavioral health unit at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, directing funds toward an oft-overlooked but essential component of health.
Thielen Foundation provided funding for space renovations and has continued to direct funds for beneficial programing. Two additional spaces will be renovated this year thanks to another $100,000.
View photos of Vikings WR Adam Thielen and several teammates at the Thielen Foundation Charity Softball Game.
In 2020, Thielen Foundation announced the #ChangeThroughSport campaign to direct funds to organizations making impacts through athletics.
"I think for us, we're just trying to find schools that need the resources, that need those opportunities for these kids to not only have success but also just to want to play sports, to feel like people care about them and that they want to be able to play a sport," Thielen said. "In turn, they have to do well in school and graduate and have success outside of sports. We usually do things through sport; but really, it's coming full-circle to help them become more complete people."
Brooklyn Center received a weight room renovation, as well as the donation of cleats and equipment for all eight fall sports programs (a value of $50,000) and new cleats for two consecutive years for football and soccer teams.
Detroit Lakes High School, where Thielen attended, also received $100,000 for renovations to its weight room and new jerseys.
Robbinsdale Cooper High School received $25,000 for renovations, as well as new jerseys.
But one of the biggest gifts was raising and allocating $250,000 to repair the lights at Brooklyn Center's football stadium.
The donation restored the lights at Brooklyn Center in fall 2021, allowing for games to be scheduled later in the evening and enabling more of the community to attend.
Through the Thielen Foundation, Adam Thielen and his family partnered with The Salvation Army to adopt local families this holiday season.
"When we heard they didn't have the opportunity to play under the lights, the biggest reason we wanted to do this was because of what playing under the lights meant to us in high school," Thielen said. "We had that opportunity to play sports in front of our friends and family. I think the more support the kids have, the better opportunity they have to succeed in life and to learn the life lessons that have done so much for us."
Brooklyn Center Athletic Director Nate Gautsch said a buzz permeated the school in the hours before Centaurs seniors were able to play a home game under the lights for the first time.
"When you play a game at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, it just kind of loses that aura," Gautsch said.
As much as Thielen still values the memories from his nights under lights on Fridays, he also knows that he enabled his path to the collegiate and NFL levels through his work in the weight room and training program.
The bonding between former rivals Humboldt and Harding High Schools was strengthened in the weight room at Humboldt High School that Thielen Foundation renovated. Beyond the financial commitment, Thielen spent personal time going over details of the renovation, from the look of the space to the equipment provided.
"This is the first time anybody has ever decided to give to us," H-town QB Jorge Irizarry said in September during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "Nobody else has ever done that."
The fresh space enabled players to do some of the same exercises Thielen does and bridged the St. Paul neighborhoods.
"I haven't seen a summer where there were more kids showing up every day. The way they talk about it and present it is, 'It's our weight room.' Not just football but a weight room that was made for them," Harding Athletic Director Otto Krause said.
" 'Thank you' really isn't enough, because for a long time, for a lot of times, the kids at these buildings are used to getting that kind of stuff and having somebody that's thinking about them, and you can tell they're not taking it for granted," added Krause, who was the head coach when the programs united last year.
Irizarry was able to increase his weight from 155 pounds to 172 thanks to the new weight room, leading the team to a 7-1 record.
"I truly appreciate it because it's an NFL player — not even an NFL player, an NFL superstar — is coming down and helping a St. Paul school out," Irizarry said. "He gave it to a school that hasn't been good at sports."
View photos as Vikings WR Adam Thielen and The Salvation Army team up to host a Turkey giveaway for families in the Twin Cities.
A Lifestyle of Giving Back
With the world shellshocked in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone wanted to help.
Thielen built on that desire to give back and quickly brought together other people in the community, as well as Vikings Radio Network partner KFAN 100.3-FM for a radiothon that raised $280,000 (including $100,000 directly from Adam and Caitlin Thielen).
The money raised was directed to Second Harvest, M Health Fairview, The Salvation Army and the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund ($70,000 each).
Thielen established a relationship with The Salvation Army early in his career and since 2019 has been able to expand that relationship by adopting between five and 10 families each year through The Salvation Army's Pathway of Hope program.
Adam and his wife Caitlin Thielen sponsored five Salvation Army families at the Mall of America for an evening of gifts, food, visits from Nickelodeon Universe characters and access to Nickelodeon Universe.
The families receive a Christmas experience they otherwise would not receive, as well as providing assistive funds for computers, school tuition or covering an electric bill.
In 2021, Thielen Foundation allocated $375,000 to multiple organizations throughout the Twin Cities.
Beyond the financial impacts, Thielen provides a tangible example to youth and adults throughout Minnesota and beyond.
They see a man who lives his dream and equips others to chase theirs.
"Adam's story is inspiring, especially since he's a kid from Minnesota, went to college in Minnesota, was undrafted and is now doing what he's doing for the Minnesota Vikings," Irizarry, the Humboldt High School senior, added. "If I could make it to the NFL and play for my hometown team, it would be amazing."
Nationwide Charity Challenge
Fans are encouraged to participate in Nationwide's Charity Challenge, a social media campaign designed to support and promote team nominees. Fans can vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge followed by their favorite nominee's last name or Twitter handle. The player whose unique mention is used the most between Dec. 6, 2022 and Jan. 18, 2023, will receive a $25,000 contribution to his charity of choice, while the second- and third-place finishers will receive $10,000 and $5,000 donations, all courtesy of Nationwide. Hashtag information and official rules can be found atnfl.com/manoftheyearalong with more information about the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.