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A Shining Star During the Holidays

Posted Dec 25, 2010

Team photographer Eric Lars Bakke has been working with the Broncos for 26 years. He writes about Brian Dawkins' recent holiday party for more than 75 foster children from Arapahoe and Jefferson Counties.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Last week I had my lens trained on Brian Dawkins.

It was a good angle, the lighting was all right but what captivated me the most was the intensity of his expressions and the orchestrated jabs in the air he made with his large battle-scarred hands.

He was standing before 70 young people and a dozen or so adults, setting the stage for a mantra he planned to deliver. It wasn't a pre game speech but rather a storied group of pages from his life's playbook sprinkled with a few euphemisms any NFL coach could use on game day.

His guests were children ages 5-16 from the Arapahoe-Jefferson Counties Collaborative Program for Foster Care and Adoption and their foster parents.

With the support of Mile High United Way, Brian had invited them to the facility for a Christmas party held on the turf field in the conditioning center of Dove Valley. Earlier in the evening they were treated to a meal in the team's cafeteria before they sauntered over to the training center to have their picture taken with Santa and receive some Christmas presents from Dawkins.

The facility was under the dimmed lights of an off day for the players, coaches and staff.

Laughter and giggles had echoed off the walls as each kid brought a bit of excited energy into the building.

But as the children settled in their seats after their session with Santa, each set of eyes focused intently on the All-Pro safety. The scene could be described much like the seasonal tale, " not a creature was stirring not even a mouse".

Unlike Brian's deliveries on the field, this one was soft and somewhat poetic. His message to the children was a gift in itself.

He spoke of an unsettled youth with friends that lost their lives to violence at his guest's ages and the efforts he made to avoid the wrong paths.

"I didn't allow those wrong decisions to come out of me. I made the right decisions, in order to go to Clemson University," he proclaimed. "People in my neighborhood didn't go to college. People in my neighborhood went to the corner with a brown bag in their hand. That's where people in my neighborhood went. I didn't want to be like that, so I didn't let those negative things affect me in that way."

Dawkins emphasized planning for the future and solicited help to spread the word.

"Don't let where you are affect your future. It's about where you're going to finish", he stated.

 The eight-time NFL Pro-Bowler continued, "Because many of you in this room are going to have decisions to make, to do some special things. What you're going to be able to do is to reach some people that I can't reach. There's people I can't reach because they look at me like, 'You're a professional football player, you have it made.' I can't reach some people. But because of your story, your testimony is going to be such that you're going to be able to reach them and touch them in a mighty way."
 
"One of the things about trying to reach the goal that I reached is that along the way people said certain things. What you have to do, yourself, is pick something that you feel passionate about".

For No. 20, obviously 15 years in the National Football League has become his testament.

Encouraging the youth, he mentioned an attendee told him earlier in the evening he wanted to be an engineer. "That's great. Awesome. Don't let people talk you off that ladder, telling you what you can't do."

As good of a delivery a Denver Broncos team captain could give, Dawkins began to lose the attention of his littler guests. Their heads started veering towards a pile of neatly bagged intended gifts.

"I know some of you, especially you younger ones, you're sitting there thinking, 'Please, Mr. Dawkins, can we just get to the gifts.' I understand that. I have little 3-year-old twin girls," he reported with a smirk and continued with an expression ready for a fourth-and-1. "But especially for you older ones, understand this: DON'T ever let someone's opinion of you define you. You define yourself, about what your dreams are. And those dreams…little boy from Jacksonville, Fla., growing up in the neighborhood that I grew up in…here I am 15 years later still playing in the National Football League. Not many people believed I could make it. I didn't believe all the way…I was hoping I could make it. Through the grace of God I made it. But understand that there are some opportunities for you to reach out and to grab hold of."

As this solid 6-foot, 210-pound veteran safety, dressed in an avocado-green sport sweater-donning a red and white Santa hat, meandered toward the stack of gifts, he paused and looked across the breadth of his audience and said with a punctuated but smoothing voice, "Surround yourself with the right people, and believe me when I say you are cared about. You always hear about how there are stars up there and you have to reach for them."

He pointed upward and continued, "put your own star up there and reach for that. Don't reach for the stars that are already up there. You put a star up there say, 'I want to be such-and-such.' That's your star, and then you reach for that. On a daily basis, you reach for THAT star. Decide along the way on the decisions that you have to make in order for that star to be reached, that goal to be achieved.

When you leave here, make sure you have your star that your reach for. Don't let anybody define you, and it's not where you start, it's where you end."
 
Then relenting to the wee ones, Dawkins opened his arms and announced,"So, now we're going to pass out these gifts…"

It was as a star-studded evening during the holidays for sure.

To learn more how you may be able to help these children, visit http://www.collaborativefostercare.com/. Click on the photos at the top and bottom of this story for information on the children pictured.

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