By Van Adams, Player Engagement Insider
The Walter Payton NFL Man of The Year nomination came as a surprise to Chicago Bears linebacker, Sam Acho. Humbled by the nomination, the award, which is given to a player who has had a significant positive impact on his community, wasn't something that was on his radar.
“We have a bunch of guys doing some awesome stuff in the community, the nomination was an honor and a surprise,” Acho said. “Having the opportunity to meet and talk with Jarrett and Brittney (Walter Payton’s children) was a great experience.”
Equipped with a business degree from the University of Texas and an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Management in Arizona, a top-ranked program in the country, Acho has an ardent desire to help those who cannot help themselves. One day, he and his classmates were having a discussion on economics; the conversation would leave a lasting impression on him.
“We were having a discussion on economics and someone said ‘poor people hurt the economy.’ That rattled me to my core. Everything in the Christian faith talks about taking care of orphans, widows, and the poor. In scripture, it talks about ‘whatever you do for the least of these, you honor Christ.’ I thought I can’t just sit here and do nothing, I want to be out there helping people,” Acho said. “A part of me really wants to stand up for people who don't have a voice. There are people who really need help, and I want to help.”
Helping people in need is what Acho has done for as long as he can recall in the communities where he’s lived and through the Living Hope Ministries, founded in 1989 by his parents Dr. Sonny and Christie Acho. Born and raised in Nigeria, Acho’s parents moved to the United States in their early 20s and lived out the American Dream. When they would go back to their native Nigeria to visit, they’d learn a number of friends and family members were dying from illnesses that in the United States would be remedied by a trip to the local pharmacy.
Acho’s mother, Christie, who is a Doctor of Nurse Practicing (DNP), and his father Sam, who has a PhD in psychology, both had a heart to help and decided to do something about what was happening. They rallied their friends, some of whom happened to be surgeons, dentists, ophthalmologists, and some were friends who just wanted to give back. For the past 28 years, the humanitarian effort of Living Hope Ministries has not ceased.
Acho is an active participant in the annual mission trips to Nigeria and works alongside of the medical team and volunteers. About 25 doctors from all over the United States and another dozen or so volunteers travel to Nigeria for two weeks each summer. Once in Nigeria, they team up with their Nigerian medical partners who serve as “boots on the ground” providing medical assistance to the community year-round.
“Everybody that comes with us comes to work; this is not a vacation. We’re up on our feet around 6:00 a.m. each day, we're at the hospital, and we work until dark. People come with their hearts prepared to serve,” Acho said. “No one really knows what to expect going 7,000 miles to a developing country until you go to one. We’re not in the nice places. We’re in the rural places where there’s no light, no running water, and good medicine is hard to come by. It can be a shock to some people but every time we leave, people always say they gained so much more than they gave.”
Recognizing the need to provide care to the people of Nigeria after the mission trips end, Living Hope Ministries has embarked on a fundraising mission to build a medical facility that would transform their makeshift hospital, currently housed in an abandoned building, into a full-time hospital. Nearly halfway to the $2 million dollar fundraising goal, Living Hope Ministries will begin operating as a clinic this June with plans to evolve into a full-time hospital in the near future.
Back home in the States, Acho is a pillar of the Chicago community. He frequently visits the local homeless shelter, schools, and youth organizations.
“I hang out and talk to the local kids to let them know we care about them, and that they are not forgotten. I go to the schools and talk about what it means to be a good leader, what it means to be a good teammate, and what it means to set and reach your goals,” said Acho, the proud father of a two-year old and a three-month old.
Recently, Acho held a celebrity waiter event in Chicago to raise funds for Living Hope Ministries. The fundraiser drew the support of nearly 30 current and former players including teammates Alshon Jeffery, Akiem Hicks, Jerrell Freeman, and Chicago Bears legends Alex Brown, Richard Dent, Israel Idonije and others.
“It was cool to see the guys jump on board to help raise money for the clinic. Some people think NFL players just play football and don't care about anything else,” Acho said. “But NFL players are people too; we know that we have been given a platform and an opportunity. A lot of us like to serve others.”
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. The award, established in 1970, was renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community.
The winner will be announced in Houston at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on February 4, the night before Super Bowl LI, from 8-10 p.m. (ET and PT) on FOX. To learn more, visit: www.nfl.com/manoftheyear
Van Adams is an award-winning entrepreneur and small business owner with expertise in sports business and business development. For more than a decade, she has represented a number of iconic sports celebrities and executed marketing campaigns for their personal celebrity and/or business ventures. An advocate for women in business, Van is the creator and producer of Gathering on the Greens, a women’s golf initiative, and serves as President of the Board of Directors for the NYC Metro Chapter of Women in Sports and Events where she oversees programming and strategy. Van is an adjunct professor and contributor for a number of industry outlets. She spends her spare time in a test kitchen baking or on a golf course working on her short game.