When Dwayne Allen arrived in Indianapolis in 2012 after being drafted by the Colts in the third round of the NFL Draft, he jumped right into community service. While he enjoyed the various events and projects he was involved with, he knew he wanted to do something more – something where he could make a bigger and longer-lasting impact.
Allen realized that he wanted to put his efforts toward inner city kids. He knew that those children didn’t have the opportunities others did and often didn’t know right from wrong. Allen knew this well because growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina he was one of those kids.
Allen grew up in government housing, in inner-city Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he was exposed to more negative influences than positive ones. His mother had to work several jobs to support her family, which included Allen, his brother and five sisters. While she tried to instill values and a hardworking mentality, it was an uphill battle because of the environment they were in.
Allen was passed through the school system and, although he was never arrested or committed any serious crimes, he was labeled as a “bad kid” because of the trouble he got into. Eventually he was sent to an alternative school, which was made up mostly of what Allen referred to as “other bad kids.” From a young age, he knew no other way of life.
“You learn how to do the wrong thing,” he said. “You’re on your own. Your mom’s working three or four jobs, so what do you do? You steal things.”
However, one positive thing in Allen’s life was basketball. In high school, he joined an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball team and it was there that he found a coach who saw his potential and began to develop him as an athlete. That experience had an even more profound effect on him. Allen had spent most of his life within the very limited confines of his own neighborhood. Basketball exposed him to new places and new ideas.
“AAU basketball allows you to travel,” he said. “Being able to travel around the city, eat at different restaurants, it really opened my eyes up to the world.”
Then he was spotted by the high school football coach who convinced him to try out for the team.
And from there, Allen was on his way toward a new life. A standout high school football career was followed by a college scholarship to Clemson and then it was on to the NFL.
It wasn’t long before Allen knew he wanted to find a way to help children in Indianapolis who were dealing with the same circumstances he had dealt with in Fayetteville. Allen met former Colts offensive lineman Tarik Glenn, who had started the Dream Alive Foundation in 2001, which is focused on mentoring inner city children in Indianapolis to help expand their horizons and develop them for the future.
Allen approached Glenn about becoming part of the Dream Alive Foundation. Glenn was in the processing of relocating back to his home state of California and in 2013 he named Allen Player Executive of the foundation. Allen jumped in with both feet.
The foundation targets children starting at the age of 12. There are volunteers who serve as “Dream coaches,” and who mentor individual children in the program. While the program is mostly after school, there are site directors at the schools the foundation is partnered with who actively monitor the children throughout the day to keep an eye on their progress.
Dream Alive also introduces the children to new places and experiences. It has partnered with numerous businesses in Indianapolis and the children are taken on day trips to learn about what these businesses do and the different types of jobs and careers that are available – to see a world outside the one they know and the variety of opportunities that exist.
Allen himself is right in the mix. “I’m involved with these kids on a one-on-one level,” he said. “I know just about all of them by name. I go on learning trips. I’m in the classroom as much as possible. I’m also in meetings with the advancement director figuring out the different sponsors we’re going to meet with and discussing different opportunities to grow.”
It’s not just the children who are being impacted. “My football coach in high school was my Dream Alive,” Allen said. “He believed in me and poured things into me. Now for me to have the opportunity to pour into them and let them know that someone cares, it has a lasting impact on them but it’s having a lasting impact on me.”
For more information about the Dream Alive Foundation, visit www.dreamaliveinc.org.