Heading into his ninth year with the Minnesota Vikings, linebacker Chad Greenway has become an established member of the Minneapolis community, which was his goal even before being selected in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
“My wife and I came out of the University of Iowa in 2006,” Greenway said. “We knew we wanted to start a community endeavor in the city we ended up in.”
Greenway, a native of South Dakota, and Jennifer, a native of Illinois and a former track and field athlete at Iowa, knew that helping children was something they wanted to make a priority. They were impressed by the facilities and programs at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota so their first major outreach was a personal, $100,000 donation to them.
They then began hosting a football camp, also in South Dakota. And because both of their grandmothers had passed away from breast cancer, they started doing work tied to breast cancer awareness. But, that was just the start.
Eight years ago, they launched the Gridiron Gallop, a 5K run/walk which now takes place annually on Father’s Day and raises money for the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Department. It has become a popular family event and all of the funds raised go to help support the department’s various programs as well as scholarships to those programs for children who would otherwise be unable to afford to participate.
Eventually they knew they needed to form a foundation to consolidate and organize their efforts and to hone in on their target areas.
“We want to enrich the lives of kids and families in the Twin Cities and South Dakota,” Greenway said. “After about three years we realized we could donate a lot more money if we partnered with somebody who had a platform to run a foundation efficiently. So, we partnered with Prolanthropy (an organization that provides philanthropy management for those in sports).”
Their foundation, Lead the Way, was established in 2008 and then things really took off. Although they juggle a variety of causes, there are currently three signature programs.
The first is Chad’s Locker. The foundation provides a locker to hospitals that is a replica of Greenway’s football locker. However, it is stocked with technology equipment, such as iPads, iPods, cameras, Playstations, and Nintendo video games. Families with a child in the hospital are able to borrow these to use while they are there. Parents can use the iPads to check email and the children can use the games. One by one, they are providing a locker to hospitals throughout the Minneapolis area.
“People forget that the five year old might be sick, but they have a sibling who’s getting dragged along,” Greenway said. “You try to pick everybody up. Families come in and it’s made things so much easier for them. Cameras can capture the good moments. Not just bad things happen in hospitals.”
Their second main program focuses on helping mothers with sick children. Every year the foundation hosts the TendHER Heart Luncheon, which gives mothers an opportunity to take a break from their daily routine and to share their experiences with others dealing with similar challenges.
The third is Field of Dreams, which grants sports-related and vacation wishes to sick children and their families.
And they continue to add causes wherever they see a way to help. They work with the Reach Program in Hutchinson, Minnesota, which helps provide support and guidance to children who are dealing with troubled or difficult circumstances. The program was developed by Chad Harlander, who has spent two decades as a family counseling professional.
“These kids have a lot of family issues, drugs, etc. [Harlander] will rehab their grades, their personalities, their personal lives, and say, ‘Hey let’s create some opportunities for you,’” Greenway said.
The Greenway family was hit recently with its own challenge. Chad’s father, Alan, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and while he is now in remission, the past few years have been difficult. Alan went through two stem cell transplants and made numerous trips back and forth between the family farm in South Dakota and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
As with everything, Greenway confronted it head on and is now adding to his endeavors the job of getting people enrolled in stem cell donor programs. His work was recognized by the Mayo Clinic who asked him to speak at one of their 150th anniversary events, which was attended by 5000 people.
So what is the plan for the Lead the Way Foundation as they go forward? “We continue to evolve as we go on,” Greenway said. “If we feel there’s something we can do, we do it. The fact that I would retire from this game and not leave my mark would be sad.”
For more information on the Lead the Way Foundation, visit www.chadgreenway.org.