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Jennings’ charity side featured on OWN
Monday night, fans were given an inside glimpse to the size of his heart.
Jennings was one of several NFL players that appeared on an episode of “Operation Change” on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The program is tantamount to a worldwide Make-A-Wish, combining humanitarian efforts to help a troubled community.
The community chosen was a village in Tanzania near the Kenyan border inhabited by the Maasai tribe. It’s a very primitive tribe that exists much like it did 100 years earlier and one of the critical community issues was the availability of fresh water – something that is mostly an afterthought to most Americans but is vital to the people of the Maasai.
The closest water was more than four miles away for the community selected for the show. The village’s current water source was effectively a watering hole also used by animals indigenous to the area. Even more troubling, when the water jugs are filled, they are extremely heavy and women of the community had a four-mile hike back to their village.
The show covered a community-wide range of topics that didn’t have as much to do with the NFL as with the cultural conditions, including the lack of education and the basic necessities needed for life.
Jennings was part of a group of NFL players that were headed up by former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris and included Jennings, Santonio Holmes, Jerome McDougle, Quinton Carter and Chase Daniel.
The NFL’s involvement in the OWN program also included a heartwarming example of the work done by the Starkey Hearing Foundation – a Minnesota-based company that provides hearing aids to those who have spent all or most of their lives without the ability to effectively hear. Future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Larry Fitzgerald were part of the Starkey excursion, along with Jennings, which was woven into the show.
But, the crux of the show was devoted to getting a well dug for the local residents to ease the daily struggles they go through simply to get clean drinking water and improve the quality of life of the community.
The well was dedicated to the memory of Harris’ wife Ashley, who died at the age of 29 from a brain aneurysm on Feb. 12, 2012 – leaving Tommie Harris a widower with children ages three and four months. As a way of helping himself heal from the shock of the unexpected death of his wife, Harris has decided to use his stature as an NFL player to heighten awareness to problems facing others and helping to attempt to fix some of them where possible. He is changing lives.
The well will serve approximately 2,000 people as well as provide water for the 5,000 head of livestock that help sustain the tribe.
Jennings provided a poignant prayer requesting that the drilling of the well, which has a success rate of about 75 percent, would be successful.
“Dear God, we humble ourselves before you,” Jennings said. “Bless Ashley and our dedication of this well. We thank you for this village. We thank you for bringing us together as we pursue water. We just ask that you cover us, continue to have your hand on us and let it be a blessing to these people.”
As Jennings was delivering his prayer, it began raining heavily – a rarity for the drought-stricken community. He said it was a sign that their work was doing good in the bigger picture of things.
“I’m out there praying for water and it starts to pour rain,” Jennings said. “It was pretty remarkable – standing there and feeling those raindrops come. It almost gave you the sense of water being there. It has to be a good sign.”
It’s unlikely football fans and the Oprah Winfrey Network will be linked often – the Michael Sam initiative likely saw to that – but the next time Jennings is criticized for having a big contract, perhaps OWN could be destination television (briefly) to see the impact that someone motivated can have – and how those who are blessed give back to those less fortunate.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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