by Dennis Waszak Jr.
NEW YORK (AP)—Tears welled up in David Clowney’s eyes as he watched a group of Haitian children roam the streets of Port-au-Prince with nowhere to go.
Shoeless, shirtless and homeless, they made the New York Jets wide receiver think about his little brother, Jordan.
“Just seeing how these kids who had no families were living was devastating,” Clowney told The Associated Press. “I have a 10-year-old brother and I just can’t imagine him living that way.”
Clowney, who had 14 catches and a touchdown last season, spent three days in Haiti last month as part of a missionary group that included Jets teammates James Ihedigbo and Vernon Gholston and former cornerback Ahmad Carroll. They worked with members of Yele Haiti, musician Wyclef Jean’s charity, to help with the relief and recovery efforts following the earthquake that killed an estimated 230,000 and left 1.3 million homeless in January.
“Even if I can’t save the entire country, I can at least try to put a Band-Aid on things to help the situation,” Clowney said. “I was in tears a couple of times, though, going to the orphanages and passing out diapers, baby formula and baby food.”
Inspired by what he considers a life-changing experience, Clowney is planning a weeklong trip to Ghana in July to help needy children in that West African country.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Africa and this is another opportunity to do something good for the kids,” Clowney said. “Honestly, I love kids. Seriously, I do.”
Clowney’s trip is scheduled for July 3-10, and he’s holding a fundraiser through his charity, the David Clowney Foundation, to raise money to finance the trip and supplies. He and several of his Jets teammates will be waiters and servers at Applebee’s restaurant in East Hanover, N.J., on May 18. Tickets cost $65, which includes dinner and a donation to the foundation.
“I thought it was a cool twist,” Clowney said.
He’s hoping some of his teammates join him in Ghana, and plans to get in touch with Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai, whose family is from there.
The mission will include a visit to a hospital, to which Clowney’s foundation will donate money and medical supplies. Also on the itinerary are stops at a school in Kumasi and an orphanage in the capital city of Accra, and then he’ll set up a game to teach the children about American football.
“It’ll be good, man,” Clowney said. “It’s all for the kids.”
Clowney, 24, began his foundation over a year ago with football camps and clothing drives to help children in the rough, crime-filled area of Palm Beach county where he grew up in South Florida.
“I wanted to be able to express the message and show kids that you don’t need to do all those things to get out of a bad neighborhood or take care of your mother or your family,” he said. “I don’t want any kid to have to go through that.”
That inspiration is what made the trip to Haiti so emotional for Clowney.
“You see little kids right outside the airport, 12, 11, 10 years old and younger, and they’re trying to grab your bags so you can tip them,” he said, shaking his head. “They’re just out there trying to do anything they can. For them to be that young and have to go through that, that’s kind of troubling to me.”
While in Haiti, Clowney helped set up shelter for homeless families and provided clothing, food and water for many who lost everything they owned.
“We were in one community and they were all doing the Jets chant,” he said. “When they all started doing that, I had a little girl in my arms, and I just came to tears.”
Haitian President Rene Preval immediately set up a meeting with the Jets contingent when he heard about their work in his country.
“I haven’t even met my own president, and never been within 100 yards of one, and we’re in Haiti for two days and we get to meet him,” Clowney said, laughing. “That was very exciting. He talked to us, showed us a lot of love and he was out there doing the Jets chant, too.”
It certainly has been a busy offseason for Clowney, who faces a crucial point in his playing career. Now in his fourth NFL season, the speedy receiver could be fighting for a roster spot this summer, especially after the Jets acquired Santonio Holmes from the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
“He’s been a good friend of mine for a long time,” said Clowney, who competed against Holmes in high school. “At the same time, I’m going to make the best of any situation that comes my way. That’s on the field and off. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that no matter how bad it may seem initially, it might be the best thing that ever happens to you. I just feel blessed, man.”
On the Net: David Clowney Foundation: http://www.davidclowney87.com/