The Institute of Nonviolence Chicago's Jonnie Brackenridge holds a trash bag open for Javaris Fisher as the duo team up to help clean Hubbard Park. | Lee Edwards/Contributor

Community stakeholders joined with former NFL players to launch the “Touchdown Score: Keeping Our Communities Safe & Clean Campaign,” an anti-violence and mentoring initiative geared toward young men ages 15 to 20. One of the group’s first actions was to clean up Hubbard Park, 4942-58 W. Hubbard St., last month. 

The roughly four-hour clean-up included raking and bagging leaves, picking up broken glass and other beautification efforts.

Austin native Garrett Wolfe, a former Chicago Bears running back, was one of three former NFL players to lead the campaign. Wolfe was joined by Corey Mays, a Chicago native who played linebacker for four years for various teams and Rashied Davis, a former Chicago Bears wide receiver. Wolfe recalled his developmental years growing up in Austin as his reason for coming back to lend a hand.

“I grew up in the Austin neighborhood, so the Austin community has always meant a lot to me, because it helped to give me the foundation for the many successes that I’ve endured in life,” said Wolfe. “This community has always meant a lot to me.”

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), who participated in the clean-up, said it’s necessary for star athletes to take an active role in aiding the community.

“As I talked to [the players and heard their stories, they want to give back, they don’t want to hear all of this happening where they grew up,” said Mitts.

“I’m excited about it because I think it’ll show that we’re all together,” she said. “We need to keep our neighborhood clean, our parks clean, and let the people around here know what they’re doing is not right. For groups to come out and do something like this it shows a presence in the neighborhood for those who are afraid to come out.”

The Institute of Nonviolence Chicago, who was a partner in the event, enlisted their amateur chefs to provide grilled hotdogs, chips and water for volunteers. INC Program Manager Marilyn Pitchfork said the clean-up is one of many events taking place in Austin to make the community a safer place. She said these sorts of efforts will increase the appreciation for the community.

“We’re bringing the guys out here to take ownership of what’s going in the community with a clean-up,” said Pitchfork.

Colin Longworth, director of Home Team Closet, a nonprofit started by former NFL star D.J. Williams, hoped similar community-focused events will encourage other former professional athletes and neighborhood residents to do their part to help. Home Team Closet gives players the opportunity to donate clothing to individuals in underserved communities.

“In talking with Ald. Mitts, I think this kind of the first step in trying to curb that violence,” said Longwood. “When you’re proud of where you live and where you come from, it emboldens people to want to do better. Hopefully, we can start there.”

Longworth anticipates future sponsorship from Skoozi, a new, Chicago-based informational app that will provide more aid to targeted communities.

“As it gets colder, we won’t be able to do a clean-up every time so we wanted to create programs and alternatives for our young people to be able to do something productive instead of be on the street,” said Longwood.