By Scott M. Johnson
KIRKLAND – The man Shaun Alexander has become has very little to do with the day in 1983 when he played his first Pee Wee football game.
Nor does it have anything to do with that fall day in 1994 when he broke out for 345 yards as a high school junior and established himself as a future football star. Or even his junior year at the University Alabama, when it became apparent that Alexander would one day be an NFL draft choice.
No, the defining day of Shaun Alexander’s life came during the holiday season about 17 years ago, when his mother dragged both her sons to a community center near their hometown of Florence, Ky., to show them how the other half lived. Shaun and Durran Alexander watched as their mother, Carol, interacted with underprivileged families that couldn’t even afford to put food on the table.
There would be many more days just like that, days when the Alexanders would pass out clothes, or help serve a turkey dinner, or give toys to needy children. Those images helped mold Alexander into the man he is today.
“It opened my eyes,” said Shaun Alexander, the Seattle Seahawks’ 24-year-old running back. “It showed me that if people need something, you can help them out. It’s not just about giving clothes and food, either. Sometimes people just needed a, ‘How are you?’ or, ‘Have a nice day,’ or, ‘God bless you.’ That’s all you have to give.”
The goal of those journeys was to show the Alexander boys that there was a world outside their bubble, where there were less fortunate people who needed a helping hand.
Apparently, the mother’s plan worked. Now that Alexander is one of the NFL’s budding young stars, he’s making good on his promise to give back to the community.
Six low-income families in the Boone County (Ky.) School District reaped the rewards this week, when the Shaun Alexander Foundation sponsored the surprise delivery of one turkey to each of their homes.
“A lot of families in this area don’t have a support system,” said Betty Pennington, the family resource coordinator for the Boone County School District. “Without this, they probably wouldn’t have Thanksgiving dinner.”
Alexander’s time of giving is not restricted to the Thanksgiving season. His foundation is a year-round organization that last year alone raised $22,000 for about 250 families in low-income homes throughout Alabama and Northern Kentucky. Durran, 25, runs the foundation in Kentucky while younger brother Shaun runs away from defenders in Seattle.
“So many times, even at a young age, you get examples of people who forget where they came from,” Durran Alexander said. ” (Our mother) wanted to make sure that no matter what we were doing – whether we got a (college) degree or whatever – that we wouldn’t forget.”
Carol Alexander started taking her sons to charity-related church functions at a young age. While her job at Proctor &Gamble in nearby Cincinnati helped provide the family with everything it needed, she made certain not to raise children who were blinded by financial comfort.
Through church-related events, toy giveaways and trips to a local shelter, the Alexander boys learned a lot about those in need.
Years later, Carol Alexander remembered driving home from one such event, when her sons started asking questions about some of the children they had met:
” ‘Mom, will they have a good Christmas?’” Carol Alexander remembers them asking. ” ‘Why does stuff like that happen?’
“The kinds of questions a parent doesn’t want to answer. They were both very inquisitive.”
The Alexander boys were pretty absorbent, too. They made it their life’s goal to follow in their mother’s footsteps in regards to giving back to the community.
“I just like being able to help people that wouldn’t be able to do something if no one helped them,” Shaun Alexander said.
While her sons are carrying on the family legacy, Carol Alexander is still doing her part. She recently earned her degree in mental health and human services at Northern Kentucky University, and works with the board of education’s truancy intervention program. She also runs into people all the time who have benefited from her sons’ foundation.
“It makes you feel kind of blessed that you have two children with very giving hearts,” she said. “The things you tried to instill in them, no matter how subtle, they grabbed it. That’s a blessing.”
Carol’s sons are so dedicated to charity work that they single-handedly organized a fundraiser during Shaun’s senior year at Alabama to help raise money for families. That banquet, the unofficial beginning of the foundation, happened even before the Seahawks took Shaun in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft.
Alexander’s agent, Richard Katz, said that one of the first inquiries of his client had to do with charity work.
“We talked about it very early,” Katz said, “even before any discussions of contracts or anything like that. … Shaun’s different. He really cares about people. He saw (playing in the NFL) as a perfect opportunity to give back.
“I’d never seen an athlete approach charitable giving like Shaun, and I think he’ll always be that way.”
After a short practice with the Seahawks this morning, Alexander will spend the afternoon having dinner with his girlfriend’s family in Bremerton. But even while he is on the other side of the country loading up on turkey and mashed potatoes, Alexander’s influence will be felt in Kentucky, where six families will be taking part in unforeseen feasts that never seemed possible.
“My mom kind of raised us like that,” Alexander said. “But after a while you’ve got to go out and do it yourself.”