ST. PAUL, Minn. – K.J. Osborn felt right at home walking through the doors of the West Side Boys & Girls Club last week.
The Vikings receiver was met first by hand-drawn signs welcoming Osborn to the after-school program, then by exciting youngsters cheering his name. As he offered high-fives and bright smiles, he saw himself in many of the kids.
A native of Ypsilanti, Michigan, Osborn grew up regularly going to the local Boys & Girls Club with his sister, Kiera.
He spoke to the West Side group and told them some of his fondest memories come from those days, when he'd head to the center to play ping pong or dodgeball with his friends.
"When I speak to kids, I tell them it's a dream come true for me, because I'm more than a football player," Osborn told Vikings.com. "When I was growing up, my goal was to use my platform and the abilities that I was blessed with to be able to give back to kids, be able to be a positive influence.
"To be coming back to the Boys & Girls Club … like I said, it's another dream come true for me, and I'm blessed," he added.
Osborn donated large quantities of school supplies to help the youth celebrate the start of another school year.
Young people walked along tables covered in carefully organized, colorful supplies, with Osborn. They started by choosing a backpack (which ranged from solid colors to Buzz Lightyear and Paw Patrol), then could select from groupings of notebooks and folders, pencils and pens, erasers, pencil pouches and even Vikings socks.
One young boy asked if he could take five pencils – "one for every school day" – and was happily encouraged to do so.
West Side Boys & Girls Club Branch Manager John Hardeman noted the autonomy Osborn offered the youth by setting up the supplies in a way for them to choose what they needed and preferred.
"Something is happening with you, not to you. … That's the flexibility that he brought to this," Hardeman said.
That's exactly how Osborn wanted it.
"One of the things that I try to emphasize when I'm doing activities or give-backs, I want to be interactive. I want to show these kids, 'Look, I've been blessed with the ability to play football, but I'm a regular person just like anyone else,' " he said. "I want to be able to talk to them, show them that I have feelings, too. I have good days and bad days. I've been through adversity just like they have.
"They see us on TV and from afar, pictures and things like that, but to be able to go and speak to them, to shake hands and hug and talk, laugh and dance together, I really enjoy that."
Osborn challenged the young people to a Griddy-off, encouraging them as they did their best impressions of the touchdown dance made famous by Justin Jefferson. Osborn clapped and cheered for them before choosing his two favorite renditions.
"I'm so appreciative for what's happening. It's not fluff. This is something we'll talk about for a while," Hardeman said.
He emphasized the impact Osborn made through sharing his story, explaining to the kids that he shares a background with many of them and made it to the NFL.
"He's had an all-around life experience, and that's what we encourage our kids to have. Not only do we concentrate on academics, we practice character development – the pleases and the thank yous. The little things," Hardeman said. "Put things back where you got them. It doesn't hurt to say 'I'm sorry.' Treat others the way you want to be treated. These are values that we teach at the Boys and Girls Clubs, and they're reflected in the Minnesota Vikings [organization] and their football team, in K.J."
Thielen Foundation Provides New Humboldt High School Fitness Room | By Craig Peters
The words "ACHIEVE YOUR FULL POTENTIAL" set the tone on the back wall of the Humboldt High School Fitness Center in West St. Paul.
An approach that has advanced Adam Thielen to this point is a prominent inspirational message in the room that Thielen Foundation just remade with a fully funded makeover.
"When we started the Thielen Foundation, we knew we wanted to help youth reach their full potential and try to find ways to do that. It was a broad statement, and we wanted it that way so we could do a lot of different things," Thielen said.
The space was designed with inspiration from the ETS gyms the receiver co-owns. There are weight towers for squats, benches, racks of dumbbells, treadmills, TRX bands and an area for weighted sled work.
Thielen is pretty particular and detail-oriented when participating in the design and supplying the equipment.
"It's very specific because we feel if you come in here and are excited about being here that you're going to put a little more effort in and you feel like someone cares about you and is only going to help you, not only on the football field or the ice, but also in the classroom," he said.
One can still feel the freshness of the space and the optimism — and gratitude — in the student athletes who are benefitting from the makeover.
Testimonials are stacking like plates, whether from Harding/Humboldt the football players like CB Angelo Wilson, RB Robert Htoo and QB Jorge Irizarry, or Anders Mork and Makenzy Wilson, who are running cross country and participate in other sports.
"We had a lot of good summer workouts. I have an ACL tear, so I wasn't fully involved with all of it, but I was still with my teammates," Angelo Wilson said. "Just having this this year has definitely helped with my recovery."
Htoo also noticed the benefit of increased participation in workouts, which he credited with helping the team's hot start (3-0 so far).
"I would like to thank Adam Thielen and his wife for giving us this whole thing," Irizarry said. "This is the first time anybody has ever decided to give to us. Nobody else has ever done that."
Mork said he improved his time in the team's first meet by 40 seconds over last year thanks to gains made in the fitness room, and Makenzy Wilson said she appreciates that the space will be available to all sports programs.
"You listen to some of these student athletes talk about how they've gained muscle and feel better than they've ever felt before," Thielen said. "They've been blowing out their opponents, so those are the words where you're like, 'Man, that's really cool,' because they're seeing the results of the hard work pay off on the field, and then usually that gives them confidence and translates to the classroom as well, which is more important."
Harrison Phillips kicks off Minnesota chapter of 'Harrison's Playmakers' | By Lindsey Young
Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips is a force to be reckoned with on game day. Off the field, though, his heart of gold makes an even bigger impact.
Vikings DL Harrison Phillips hosted a local event for his foundation, "Harrison's Playmakers," that supports children and young adults with developmental differences and special needs.
During his time with the Bills, Phillips established "Harrison's Playmakers," his personal foundation that supports children and young adults with developmental differences and special needs.
Phillips began hosting "Harrison's Sports Camps," intentionally leaving football out of the name because the programming reaches far behind Harrison's sport of choice. His camps include a basketball station, a soccer station and drill stations for various football positions.
But the camps are about much more than athletic prowess.
"You might go play soccer and then your next station is a petting zoo – and we have goats and donkeys and bunny rabbits. And then you go to basketball, and then your next station is face painting," Phillips explained. "And then you have the quarterback station, and then the next one is we have this huge, inflatable bounce-house obstacle course.
"It's not all work. It's work and play," he added. "Sports are so great for proving this independence, right? Failing and getting back. Shooting nine shots, missing all nine, but believing in yourself that you're gonna make the 10th one."
Last Monday, Phillips had the opportunity to kick off his Minnesota chapter of "Harrison's Playmakers," when he invited a group of young people to dinner at Wildfire and then treated the youth to a shopping spree.