Shane Ray hosted the inaugural Rays Awareness Steak and Seafood Dinner on Monday, raising thousands of dollars to support his foundation's efforts.
DENVER —** Unsurprisingly, Shane Ray's mother stole the show.
On Monday night, in front of about 100 supporters, Sebrina Johnson told the story many of his fans already know, about how they lived in one of the country's nastiest neighborhoods, about how she scrapped to keep them on the right path, about how he worked to get to the NFL.
But she also added anecdotes he didn't expect, like how it seemed like he gained a shoe size with each birthday or how the then-preteen Ray, dismayed at how he was slightly overweight, grew out of those concerns with a sudden growth spurt. She described a time when he so desperately wanted to become a better athlete.
As a single parent, Johnson scrapped together money however she could to provide solutions to these challenges. But she and her son know there are many families out there, whether in Denver or Kansas City or anywhere else, who struggle with those same problems.
Those families are the people Ray and his mother had in mind when they added a fundraising initiative to his foundation, Rays Awareness, with Monday night's inaugural Steak and Seafood Dinner at Ocean Prime in Larimer Square.
"I always told my mom, 'At some point in my life, I don't know when, but I want to help people out,'" Ray said. "Because I understood how it is to grow up and have people there to support you and have people that every time you get in trouble or you're failing, people give you the right direction. That's what Rays Awareness is all about: finding ways to help people who need help, whether it be kids that need shoes, whether it be kids that need backpacks, whether it be raising money for food. There's so many different things that we can touch and focus on in Denver. I'm just honored and blessed to be able to do it with the platform that I have."
Rays Awareness has focused on helping the Denver Rescue Mission in its first years of existence. Ray has a "Shane's Shoes" campaign where he gathers footwear for children in need, and he held a backpack giveaway for children at the shelter before the school year.
But he has his eyes on larger initiatives.
"I know that one of the goals Shane has is to build a new playground at the Denver Rescue Mission," said Lauren Renschler, Ray's publicist and a board member of Rays Awareness. "He was there with a backpack giveaway in the fall and noticed there wasn't really a place for kids to play outside there. And so that is something that we've earmarked and said, 'As soon as we're able to raise enough money, that is top of our list, to take care of our partners and those families.'"
Though Ray was nervous at first about taking this next step for the foundation, the dinner was a rousing success, with the main floor of Ocean Prime packed to the gills. In addition to the dinner, the event also featured live and silent auctions for sports memorabilia and other valuable prizes.
"When we really started the charity dinner and started planning it, we were kind of nervous because you just don't know how these things are going to go," Ray said. "But when I was able to start telling people about it and get the message out there of what I was trying to do, we sold out in almost two weeks, raising almost over $40,000. That just says so much about people here in Denver and how much they really do care about the community, how they're supporting my cause in doing things for other people who are less fortunate and I think it's very powerful. To have the platform that I have as a football player and to be able to combine that same platform with the people in the community to help me out, I think it goes hand in hand."
Rays Awareness board members watched Monday night as what began as a small endeavor to help the Mission gained the support of many willing donors.
But they weren't the only ones who witnessed that expansion. Ray and Johnson invited representatives from the Mission to have a night to celebrate the growing assistance.
"Honestly, his support for Denver Rescue Mission over the last couple years has been tremendous, and you can just tell he and his mom, Sebrina, just the heart that they have for what we do at the Mission is so genuine," said Stacy Parker, PR coordinator for the Denver Rescue Mission. "Just the fact that he wanted us to be out here to be represented at this event is really, really incredible. We feel really blessed."