By Teresa Varley
In a small North Carolina town, where the local pickle company is one of the main employers, where homes are old and opportunities limited, you don't really think about an NFL player having a huge impact.
But Greg Warren is doing just that.
Warren, the Steelers long snapper, grew up in the suburbs of Mt. Olive, North Carolina but knows what life is like in the downtown urban area. It's a place that needs a helping hand and he is offering that to kids in the program where he got his start in football.
Warren received a youth football grant from the National Football League and then matched the amount, donating it to his former peewee football team, the Mt. Olive Hurricanes.
For years, kids who played in the league have had to make an eight-mile trek from the downtown area to the local high school just to practice and play games. But because many parents didn't have a car or had to work, kids in the downtown area were often left out, leaving them without an escape, without something to look forward to.
"Kids grow up in that environment and can't leave it," said Warren. "If we can get them off the street and into something with leadership and involvement with a team, a lot of that will take care of itself and the kids will have more opportunities.
"My dad was the high school coach so I was able to see a lot of great players. We had a ton of great athletes, even though the town was so small. But they either didn't have the transportation or got caught up in trouble. They had potential, but were never involved. They got in trouble when they had nothing to do. I felt bad for these kids. I was fortunate not to have to go through that. Some of their lives might have been different. "
Warren was one of those lucky enough to live near the high school and his parents had the means to get him where he needed to be, so making it to practice was never an issue. But he knows what a burden it was for some of his friends to make it to practice.
That is why he has his sights set on a field in the downtown area and the money he donated is already being put to use on accomplishing that goal.
"It's hard for some of the families with young kids to get from downtown to the high school to play the games," said Warren. "We have a lot of kids that would like to play and they make it to one or two practices, but can't keep playing because they can't get to practice and the games. Our hope instead of bringing the kids to the field, bring the field to them."
Warren is working with his former youth coaches, who still run the program, Steve Martin and Alex Ferrell. They are using a playground in the downtown area, which is just open space, to turn it into the field and it's become a true community project, with parents donating their time and farm equipment to prepare the area to practice on.
While he isn't able to check on the progress on a daily basis Warren does get regular updates from the coaches every few days and is looking forward to the day when it's not just a place where the team can practice, but can also play games complete with bleachers and lighting. When the project is completed, it truly will be a field of dreams.
"My original hope was if I can help this team and it makes it easier for kids and more can play, they will stay off the streets," said Warren. "It's very exciting. I hope I can do more in the future. Anything I can do to help, it's great to know I might be able to change kids lives. If I can change one kid's life, it's been a success."