The defensive end launched a program to help curb youth homelessness

William Hayes talking to a teen

The NFLPA Community MVP recognizes players who are making a positive impact in their local communities. Each week, the NFLPA will celebrate one player who recently demonstrated his commitment to giving back and will make a donation to the player’s foundation or cause in support. This week’s #CommunityMVP is St. Louis Ram William Hayes for his outstanding commitment to advocating for homelessness awareness.

A recent survey said 71 percent of all active NFL players are on Twitter. St. Louis Rams defensive end William Hayes is not one of them, but that may be because he prefers to engage with individuals in the community in a different way.

On October 14, Hayes kicked off his “Hanging with Hayes” program with the youth of the Covenant House Missouri (CHMO). The non-profit organization serves homeless and disconnected youth between the ages of 16 and 21 and seeks to empower them to design their own paths to independence.

The Hanging with Hayes initiative treats a group of youth to a movie and concessions to reward them for their ongoing participation in CHMO’s programming. The monthly event also gives attendees the opportunity to catch up with Hayes and discuss the challenges and successes they are currently facing.

The first installment treated teens to the action-packed thriller “Everest.”

“To be able to spend time with the kids at Covenant House and let them know how much I care about them means a lot to me, and that’s what I enjoyed the most,” said Hayes. “These are all kids who are homeless or have no safe and stable housing and are forced to take care of themselves at a very young age, but they’re still going out and doing the right things. They take full advantage of all the programs Covenant House has to offer, and that’s why I wanted to treat them to a night out for a little fun. It’s amazing how something as simple as a movie can go a long way.”

Spreading Hope

The initiative is run through the “Big Play Hayes Foundation: Leading with Heart” which provides resources, support and compassion to youth in difficult situations and homeless adults and teens.

“The Big Play Hayes Foundation is all about spreading hope,” Hayes said “We work with kids in difficult situations and adults who are experiencing homelessness. My focus for the foundation is to be a support system for the people we serve and to make a positive impact in each of their lives.”

Hayes sitting, speaking to a group at the Hayes Foundation

Spreading Awareness

While Hayes has always had a passion for impacting his community in a positive way, during the 2014 offseason, he decided to focus his efforts on the complex issue of homelessness.

“The homeless community has taught me so much,” Hayes said. “What we take for granted in our everyday lives is part of their daily struggle. They wonder where they’re going to sleep, and what they’re going to eat, and that’s their reality.”

To foster Hayes’ commitment, the St. Louis Rams connected him with the St. Patrick Center, a long-time community partner. The organization is one of the state’s largest providers of housing, employment and health opportunities for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Hayes immersed himself in the opportunity, completing monthly events and educating himself about the complicated and multifaceted issue of homelessness. After a full year, Hayes and teammate Chris Long became homeless for a day and night to better understand what individuals experience.

“I’m just trying to shine a light on their situation and spread awareness so these individuals can get the services and support they need to obtain permanent housing,” Hayes said.

Hayes sitting at a table smiling

Spreading Change

Through the St. Patrick Center, Hayes has also become a regular at the Rosati Group Home, which provides temporary and permanent housing for formally homeless individuals suffering from mental illness who need assistance. Two weeks ago, he treated the group to a hot endless meal at Golden Corral.

His charitable efforts will continue on November 5 as he and Long serve as co-chairs of the annual Salvation Army Tree of Lights Kick-Off luncheon. The duo will discuss their personal experience of being homeless and the importance of organizations that provide assistance to those who lack fundamental necessities such as food and shelter.

“Changing the world isn’t always as challenging or as hard as we make it out to be,” said Hayes. “Sometimes all people want from you is your heart. I know I can’t change the entire world alone, but I can make a difference one life at a time and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish.”