Each week of the season DenverBroncos.com will highlight the off-field contributions of a Denver Bronco. This week we talked to tight end Julius Thomas, whose nonprofit Reading Equates to Success works to "spread inspiration and create a desire for learning." Thomas has been involved with the team's community platform during his tenure here, working primarily with youth, and hosted an event benefitting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver this week.*
Why is it so important for you as an NFL player to give back to the community?
"I think one of the biggest reasons I do it and I enjoy giving back to the community is because when I was growing up there wasn't a sports team in my city. I didn't have the opportunity to meet professional athletes and have people like that come talk about what they're interested in or give you some advice or really get to interact with somebody you're probably looking up to and want to be like one day. So every time I get a chance to be around the youth, it's kind of my way of helping kids see for whatever quick amount of time that this is the kind of person I want to be and this is what matters. If that kind of inspires them or helps them in any point of their life, then it was all worth it. "
What have been some of your favorite Broncos community events to participate in?
"Some of my favorite times have been when we go to the Boys & Girls Clubs and everybody is trying to encourage outdoor play and stuff like that. You go to the Boys & Girls Clubs and it's like being a kid again. I play all the games that I used to love playing—four square, dodgeball, just running around having fun. I also really like going to all the educational stuff, promoting reading, going to a school and talking to the kids about education—that's something I'm really big on. Any chance I get to promote education and give kids reasons why I like it is always beneficial, too."
On Tuesday night, the Broncos went to the Denver Rescue Mission to meet families and decorate gingerbread men.
Why did you start your nonprofit Reading Equates to Success and what are your goals for it?
"I don't really have many specific goals right now, it's just something I enjoy doing. I was kind of looking at different ways that I could give back and help others and I kind of thought it was something I was interested in, but also could really help people out. I wanted to do something for the youth. I believe they need as much help, guidance, encouragement as they can get. It's tough being a kid these days. Also, I've really been into reading my whole life. It's something I really like doing and I enjoy. I felt like there was a space there where there probably weren't a lot of athletes talking about how important reading is, how much they like it. So I thought that kind of fit for me. I can honestly look a kid in the face and say, 'Go read and have fun, because I do.' Sometimes you promote things that maybe you don't do as much or believe in as much as others, but that's something that I truly believe in. I hope I can encourage kids to do it. I used to get made fun of as a kid for reading all the time and I kind of saw how stuff like that that's going to help make you be successful as you get older should be things that kids should be encouraging each other to do, not teasing each other about. So there was a natural fit for me."
Have you found social media to be helpful in getting your message about reading and education communicated to people?
"I think it's good because as an athlete everybody learns everything about you secondhand. It's what a reporter wrote, or what they saw on TV and they're trying to figure out, 'So what were your thoughts? What was going through your head?' Social media really gives you a platform where you can give them first-hand insight on you or why you do something or what you're doing. I take that opportunity to help people better understand me as a person and not so much as an athlete. I really do read all the time, so I tweet about it. It's just so you know what I'm doing or to encourage somebody else—that's all part of it. Social media really helps get your unfiltered message across. "
You read to a number of children at Greenlee Elementary at the beginning of the season and talked to them about education, what was your favorite part of doing that?
"My favorite part is just how excited kids get. I kind of miss those moments of just pure joy and excitement, so it was great just to see how happy the kids are even when they're just coming in to take their seats, talking, pointing—all that is fun. Also, just how into learning they are. And then when you start reading and interacting with the kids—they're probably just happy because you're there with them—but that's going to be one heck of a memory for them one day. When they start thinking, 'Hey, I met Broncos' Julius Thomas,' and the first thing they'll say is, 'Oh, what was he doing? How did you meet him?' They'll say, 'Oh, he was talking to us about reading and encouraging us to do it.' And that right there is going to help that kid associate a person they look up to or think is cool to reading, and then it's also going to help them tell somebody else, 'Oh, he was talking about reading!' Now, everybody they come in contact with that they tell that story to will be told about how reading is something I enjoy and something I promote. The message starts to reach more and more people."
** You hosted a holiday shopping event with kids chosen from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver for excellence in school and leadership, why was this event important to you?
"It's something I've done for a long time, probably since I've been here. [Former Broncos WR Eric] Decker used to host and it and I used to go participate. Shopping is pretty fun in general, especially for Christmas and just thinking about the joy people are going to have when they get those gifts. Then when you're doing it with kids, they're fun to just hang out with and be around. I've always been touched by how the kids are about getting gifts for their whole families. When I was a kid, if you have given me a gift card to go to Target, it was all coming to me. All those presents were going to say my name on it. But these kids are so gracious in their giving, they get gifts for their family members, their parents, their brothers and sisters. I think that's just a really exciting thing to see. So I got the opportunity to host this year and it was something I was just happy to do."
You've had a lot of support from your teammates with your events and outreach, what does that mean to you?
"It's good. I think the more people that are at each other's events—it really helps us reach and touch more people. I could come and I could only be interacting with so many students, but if a bunch of people come then there are so many children that are going to be able to meet people, see people, talk to them. So it makes it great."
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