As Jermaine Kearse began to establish himself as an NFL receiver with the Seattle Seahawks, he felt like he had an obligation to find a way to give back. And as Kearse began to brainstorm ways a possible foundation could help out, he reflected back to his own childhood growing up on a military base.
Life wasn't bad for Kearse growing up on what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but life of a military family does present challenges.
"For me, I've always wanted to start a foundation, just find a way to give back," Kearse said. "I was going through the process of, 'OK, what areas should I focus on?' And I grew up in a military family, I grew up on a military base, so that kind of clicked with me. I thought, 'OK, that'd be the perfect thing.'"
With that thought in mind, Kearse started 15 to 1: Jermaine Kearse Foundation during the offseason, an organization that aims to support and inspire youth in military families to work hard, persevere and believe in order to overcome adversity and find success through positive choices, experiences and opportunity.
In addition to being a starting receiver for the Seahawks and the author of some of the biggest catches in franchise history, Kearse also wants to help kids growing up in a similar setting as he did reach their goals, whatever they may be.
"What we're trying to do is provide opportunities for the youth in military communities to find what they're passionate about and help them find ways to be successful in what they're passionate about," said Kearse, who is the Seahawks nominee for the "Salute to Service Award presented by USAA.".
Last summer, that meant taking 150 kids from JBLM to an event put on by Junior Achievement of Washington to learn business, economic and life skills. Two students were awarded a trip to Washington D.C.
Kearse's hope with his foundation is that he can make an impact on kids that he is able to relate to on a personal level. Kearse grew up with friends who moved around, making it hard to make friends or succeed in school; he had friends who had to act as parents to younger siblings when actual parents were deployed; and while he didn't have to move around repeatedly growing up, his father was eventually stationed in Kansas after his parents divorced, meaning long and infrequent trips to see his dad.
"I had a camp on Fort Lewis, and I was talking to this kid who was telling me how he had moved eight times in two years," Kearse said. "One, that would be hard to make friends and sustain friendships, and two, school-wise it's difficult if you're constantly changing schools. That's something I think is a huge challenge for kids. They've got to constantly make new friends, constantly get acclimated to new schools."
Kearse also knows what it is like to live in fear when a loved one is deployed, and unfortunately Kearse knows about coping with death of a loved one, having lost his father, David, because of a blood clot in his lungs. Kearse, who was a senior in high school at the time, not only had to deal with that loss, but help younger brother Jamaal cope at the same time.
"Think about it, your parent gets deployed, and it's a constant guessing game—is my mom or dad going to come back?" Kearse said. "That's real life. This stuff we're doing here, this is cool, but when I think about that, what those kids are going through… You watch TV and you see stuff going on over there with ISIS and other stuff; I don't think people necessarily fully comprehend that that stuff is really happening. That's real life for these people. When you see it on TV, you don't fully comprehend that it's real life to these families."
Kearse is just getting started with his foundation, but already making an impact through assemblies, on-base camps and other outreach programs. His foundation is also partnering with clothing company Uniqlo to create a job-shadow program for military youth.
"I honestly just want to make a difference," Kearse said. "I want kids to want to be a part of 15 to 1, I want them to embrace the opportunities. I remember days in high school and somebody comes to talk at an assembly, and you don't really listen. The ultimate goal is I want kids to really take advantage of these types of opportunities. Whatever you're passionate about is going to take some work, and we want to help kids express that passion and make an impact."