FORT LEE, Va. – Williams Stadium here is typically a space for physical training and troop recreational events, but over two days this week the facility served as a community service platform for a National Football League star wanting to share his talents with military kids.
Jonathan Allen, a Washington Commanders Pro Bowler and son of a career Soldier, hosted more than 100 youngsters from the Fort Lee community during the NFL ProCamp football event at the facility located on the corner of Mahone and Lee avenues. The defensive lineman said his decision to headline the camp was based on a deep interest in youth.
“Kids make this so easy,” said Allen of his camp appearance. “They want to be here. They want to learn and they want to have fun. There’s really nothing else that matters.”
The event was free but restricted to 1st - 8th graders of active duty military members, retirees and DOD Civilians.
Family and MWR teamed up with the Exchange; Defense Commissary Agency, and Proctor and Gamble to organize/sponsor the camp. It was supported by local high school coaches who helped with the instruction.
Tyneika Thomas, director of Fort Lee Youth Sports and the camp coordinator, said Allen made an immediate impact as the event’s host, interacting with young participants as though he was a big brother.
“He is amazing with the youth,” she said. “He is always on their level. The thing that caught my eye is that he connected with them as a military brat, and was able to talk to them in regards to his travels and how it affected him.”
During the camp, Allen leisurely conversed with attendees, participated in drills and never missed an opportunity to influence. He told camp attendees he was born on a military installation (Fort McClellan, Ala.), and said he was quite familiar with the military lifestyle.
“Dad was 23 years in the Army. My brother currently has 17 (as a Soldier), and my uncle was either 21 or 22 in the Navy,” he said. “Being in the military as a young kid can be tough. There’s a lot of challenges that – unless you’ve been in it yourself – you wouldn’t understand the difficulty of having a family member deployed, etc.”
Allen experienced difficulties even beyond those of the military. His mother and father parted ways when he was three, and before he turned 10, Allen and his brother spent 10 months in foster care due to the mental health challenges of their mother, according to his own account published on www.NFL.com.
Allen’s father, Sgt. 1st Class Richard Allen II, fought for custody of his sons and won. The football player wrote that he remembered his father attending court hearings and doing everything possible for his sons despite his busy work schedule. His dedication garnered immeasurable respect, said Allen.
“My definition of a hero describes my father …,” he said. “We went through a lot of challenges when I was young, and he never wavered – he was always there for my brother, Richard Allen III, and me. My father was and still is my idol and hero.”
Allen graduated in 2012 from Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn. He then played at the University of Alabama, winning a national title in 2016.
With his wife Hannah, Allen advocates for youth in the Washington, D.C. area. The couple also are supporters of the Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a homeless shelter helping residents find resources in order to become productive citizens.