By Jim Gehman
“I’d always wanted to do a program like Goals For Life,” Berry said. “We work with the kids that are at-risk and listen to them talk, try to change their behavior, try to change their attitudes, how they see things, how they react to things, and use football or sports as our focal point.
“Our motto is – a kid without a goal is a crime. The same thing that it takes to be good in sports is what it takes to do well in school and in life. Because when I saw that coalition between academics and sports, I completely changed. That’s why I got better grades in college than I did in high school and middle school. If I want to win in sports, if I want to beat you in that, than I want to beat you in everything.
“My goal is to get as many former football players to work with kids as possible to try to change how they see things because sometimes it’s who you get the pat on the back from. My goal is to pat them on the back and tell them that they can and that there’s no such thing as you can’t.”
Berry, the organization’s executive director, and five other retired NFL alumni work regularly with students in Southern California schools on a weekly basis. Others who have played in the league will also visit the schools to speak with the children.
What does Berry hope that the students who he and the others mentor will take away from Goals For Life?
“That they’ll look at their future,” Berry said. “The kids are at-risk, they don’t see a future. Most of them think they’re going to be dead before they’re 22 years old. Most boys are like that. They’ll tell you that. If your parents are in jail or if your uncle is in jail, how can you see your future? If you think you don’t have a future than you’ll act like you don’t have a future.”
And what does Berry take away from the students?
“What kids do is they teach you about yourself,” he said. “If you’re trying to teach integrity, and we tell them that integrity means to keep your word, and you’re doing it over and over again, you have to keep your word. It becomes natural to you.
“When I hear their stories and I ask them about who they are, I can see myself back then. I can go all the way back to my childhood because I experienced their childhoods. What kids do is they teach you to see yourself. It makes you a better person.”
Berry, who started Goals For Life in 1989, feels that the organization is able to exist largely due to grants from PAF.
“It’s very important because without that grant I can’t function. We do a fundraiser, but that grant helps us so much,” Berry said. “If I didn’t have that grant I wouldn’t have stayed in business. Especially when the economy crashed in 2008, it was that grant that helped me out. I wasn’t going to quit.
“When we talk to kids, we tell them three things. Who you listen to, who you don’t listen to and don’t quit. So if I’m teaching that to them than I can’t quit either. When the going was rough in 2008 and I didn’t have any money, I couldn’t quit. But as long as that PAF money was coming, I knew I (would be able) to buy the resources that I needed to keep the program going.
“There’s no doubt that PAF has had an impact on Goals For Life because when I think back it’s because (the NFLPA’s former executive director of former players Frank Woschitz and PAF executive director Andre Collins) had faith in me, that I was serious about trying to help these kids. When someone has faith in you, you try not to let them down. Especially being an athlete. And that’s what I try to tell these kids, if somebody has faith in you, they’re telling you that they trust you. Don’t let them down.”