The small town of Ravenna, Michigan is a close-knit community where, when a friend or neighbor is in need, others immediately step in to help. It is that environment in which Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans was raised on his family’s century-old farm. Now preparing to enter his 10th year in the NFL, Herremans, who was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft, has committed himself to staying true to the lessons learned in his youth.
After many years of participating in charity and community appearances and events, Herremans started The Herremans Foundation. Because he has long juggled requests from a wide variety of organizations, Herremans decided that rather than devote the foundation to one cause, he would select several smaller groups where the donations that were provided could be more effective.
After almost a decade in Philadelphia, his plan is to remain in the area permanently but he is transferring the small town philosophy of neighbor helping neighbor that he was raised with into focusing on helping those in his new community.
“We felt that if we did smaller, more local charities it would have a bigger impact,” Herremans said. And that’s how they came up with their simple, but clear mission statement, “To help where help is needed.”
To help him manage everything, Herremans recruited his mother, Marilee, a recently retired school teacher, to serve as the executive director of the foundation. She coordinates all of the logistical elements and oversees the finances, while working in concert with the other six board members, all of whom are close friends of Todd’s and were hand-picked by him. All of the positions are unpaid.
The requests that come in are numerous and diverse. Marilee culls through them as they arrive. After reviewing each specific inquiry she assigns them to the various board members for them to research further. Once armed with information, the group meets and makes its final determination on what help they may be able to offer.
In addition to taking direct donations, The Herremans Foundation now throws an annual fundraising event with a unique twist. A dinner is held connected to the start of the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. In addition to the standard festivities, which include a silent auction, everyone who attends is randomly assigned a team to root for. Televisions are placed throughout the room with the broadcasts of all the games in progress. Those who end up as “fans” of the championship team receive additional gifts at the evening’s end.
The money raised from the event is then divided among the chosen charities. For the 2014 event six, specifically Philadelphia-focused groups have been selected: MostSports+ a multi-sport after-school program focused on providing middle school students with a constructive way to fill their after-school hours; McGee Rehabilitation Hospital, which works with patients with traumatic brain injuries; Cooper Children’s Hospital’s social work program; an Alzheimer’s Association recreation center, which provides outings and activities to those in the early stages of the disease to keep them engaged; The Kevin from Heaven Foundation, which helps families dealing with life-altering situations; and Bringing Hope Home, which provides financial and emotional support to families dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
It is not uncommon for foundations started by NFL players to languish or even become defunct once the player has retired from the league. However, the vision for the Herremans Foundation is for continued growth even when Todd eventually retires from football. “We’d like to be able to get it to a point where it’s self sustaining,” Marilee said. “So even when he’s out of football it can keep going.”
In the meantime, Herremans is balancing football and the foundation and is receiving equal enjoyment from each. “It’s gratifying and fulfilling,” Herremans said of his foundation work. “In the last year and a half my favorite days were when I got to go around and hand out the checks. The groups receive money without having to go out and badger people and ask for donations.”
Herremans added, “I think it’s very fulfilling to do something outside of football. There are a lot of people who watch us play and they get a lot of excitement; they get happy, they get angry, they get sad. But [community work] is another side where you’re running through the same emotions, minus the anger, and you get to see people super happy and they’re happy because of something you’re able to do without even putting in a whole lot of time.”
For more information on The Herremans Foundation, visit www.herremansfoundation.org.