Keeping the faith

WARREN – Former NFL player and Penn State linebacker Deryck Toles says he has the best job in the world.

That job doesn’t consist of playing professional football or signing tennis shoe deals or doing commercials.

The job is helping kids.

“That’s where my heart is at,” Toles said. “Every day, every decision I make, every move I make, every minute I spend is to help somebody – a young person.”

In 2006, Toles, a graduate of Warren G. Harding High School, founded Inspiring Minds, a non-profit organization that, according to its mission statement, seeks to “engage, inspire, and empower youth to reach their full potential through education and exposure to life-changing experiences.” The program offers after-school programs for kids, designed to better the lives of underrepresented youths in the community.

“The program originated from an idea and a passion for young people and trying to find a way to make them successful,” Toles said. “When I used to come back home from playing football, I was always asked to come speak to church groups and schools and I always told them they could be successful as well. It started out meeting once a month, then meeting once a week (and) now running programs all year round.”

One Inspiring Minds event Toles organizes is the Inspiring Minds Golf Outing. NFL athletes, celebrities, sponsors, influential businessmen and others from all around the area – and the country – gather at the Avalon Lakes Golf Course to take part in the annual outing, and this year’s third annual outing took place Friday morning.

The event’s proceeds benefit the local youth of Inspiring Minds. Last year the event raised a record-breaking $75,000, and this year, Toles said the goal is to raise $80,000.

There are a lot of local and national sponsors that give to his organization, and their generous donations make the golf outing possible and allow Toles’ organization to continue to grow year after year, he said.

“It shows you that there are people out there that truly do care about our young people,” said Toles of the overwhelming support from celebrity athletes and local business owners. “The fact that they’re willing to donate their platform for a great cause, and then you have a lot of guys who are paying a lot of money to come here and play and they donate their funds from their companies and personally.”

The Inspiring Minds Celebrity Golf Outing showcases a who’s who of celebrity athletes with a local connection to the area.

Doug Datish, former Ohio State football player and retired Tennessee Titians player, said this was his third time being a part of the golf outing, and he has loved every minute of it.

“It’s a great organization that really targets at-risk youths and turns them into greatness,” Datish said. “What Deryck’s doing is great, they’re taking kids that don’t have a chance in the world and saving their lives.”

A graduate of Howland High school, Datish played against Toles in high school and played opposite of Toles during Ohio State and Penn State’s Big Ten rivalry games back in the day. Datish said he loves returning to his roots to support Toles’ cause and reconnect with old friends.

“I’m from Howland so I love getting back, playing this golf outing and seeing my buddies,” Datish said.

Former Indianapolis Colts player Chris Rucker said it was nice to return home for the outing as well.

“I got a lot of love for this place – it made me, and I appreciate everything it’s done for me,” Rucker said. “I want future generations to be able to come through here and feel the same way.”

Born and raised in Warren, the former Harding standout said this also is his third year partaking in the event. Toles’ program is very personal to Rucker and holds a special place in his heart.

“My cousin was in the program and this year my little brother and sister are in the program, so they give young kids hope and let them see what’s out there and see what they can do if they make the right choices in the future,” Rucker said.

Many of the celebrity athletes have supported Toles’ golf outing since its conception three years ago, but some of the athletes participated for the first time this year. Former Ohio State quarterback Stanley Jackson said this was his first time attending and praised Toles for his constant efforts to make the community a better place for kids.

“Whenever you have a guy who is pouring his heart into his community and into the young people in the community, if we can be part of that, I think most of us jump on it,” Jackson said. “He is having a changing influence on his community directly, and that’s the best thing you can ever do. Anybody that can help move his vision along I think you ought to do that.”

This also was the first year Chris “Beanie” Wells participated. A Garfield High School grad and former Buckeye running back, Wells was one of 11 children growing up in Akron and knows what it means to aid children in need.

“Any time I get the opportunity to come out and be a spokesperson and an ambassador for young people, I’m all for it,” Wells said. “What Inspiring Minds is doing for young kids in the inner city is amazing. They’re helping kids better prepare themselves for the next level of life and education.”

The celebrities make Toles’ job sound pretty cool, but helping children has become more than a occupation for Toles. It is now a way of life.

“All kids deserve the same opportunities, so every grant we write and every event we have, I put all my effort and heart into it because I know the impact it makes,” Toles said. “I know every time somebody gives us 50 cents, I know where it goes. I know the opportunities we can now provide when people come out and support the things we do, so I’m very appreciate of everybody that’s been involved.”