For the third straight year, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril is spending part of his offseason in Haiti, his parents' native country, where he and other NFL players have helped build a school.
The school, which is in La Chanm, a rural area in Haiti's Central Plateau region, will be completed this year. Seeing the school completed two years after he, Marshawn Lynch and others were breaking ground with shovels will be a special moment for Avril.
"It has been awesome," Avril said. "It has been great to be able to do something like this, to be able to go back to a country that I love so much as I've gotten to learn the history of the country and the people there, understanding who these people are and what they're unfortunately going through. To be in a situation to be able to give back is the biggest thing for me. I have cousins who still live there, and I could easily be one of those kids. For me to be able to go back and see them and be able to give back, it's an honor and a blessing. I'm just grateful to be able to have the platform to do so."
This trip to Haiti will also be a special one for Avril because for the first time, he will visit his father's hometown of Jacmel. Avril's father, Jean Samuel, passed away in 2015, and Avril never made it back to Haiti with his dad, who moved to the United States in the 1980s. Cliff is taking his son, Xavier, as well as his mother, Marie, on the trip, where they'll reconnect with Avril's uncle and other relatives in Jacmel.
"I've never been to Jacmel," Avril said. "I've heard it's a beautiful part of the island. I never got to travel to Haiti with my dad growing up, so to be able to go back—I have an uncle there I've been communicating with, and he's super excited about hosting us while we're there.
"I think it's going to be awesome for me personally. I never got to go back to Haiti with my dad, so to be going back with my son, and taking my mother with me, and showing him—because he always asks about grandad and all these different things—so to be able to show him where grandad grew up, where he's from, and it being my first time there as well, I think it's going to be an awesome experience and an awesome feeling to do that with my oldest."
Finishing the school hardly means the end of Avril's work in Haiti. Avril's football future is still uncertain because of the neck injury that cut short his 2017 season, but regardless of what happens, he plans on finding new ways to help in Haiti. Avril mentioned the possibility of getting involved in the curriculum of the school he helped build, or even building another school. Or, after funding the construction of new houses following Hurricane Matthew, Avril and his wife, Tia, have talked about partnering with other Haitian-American NFL players to build more houses, or even an entire community in Haiti.
"Big picture, regardless of if I play ball or not, the goal is to continue to keep helping, continue to keep trying to make a difference over there," said Avril, who is in the process of buying a house to make the Seattle-area his full-time home. "When you're playing, you obviously have a bigger platform and are able to raise money and do different things, but regardless of what happens, the community here, they get behind us, they've helped me build this school, and I believe the opportunities will still be there as long as I continue to be a part of the community and do good things. So the goal is to continue to keep doing good things in Haiti, whether it's building a community, maybe it's another school project, I'm not sure. But I'm going to keep chopping away, that's for sure, and hopefully the 12s continue to stick by my side and help with that process."
One way 12s can help Avril continue his work in Haiti, as well as the work his Cliff Avril Family Foundation does with JDRF.org, is to attend his foundation's Ping Pong Slam at SPiN Seattle on May 19. Tickets and more information on the event can be found here.
On his second day in Haiti, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril and the Cliff Avril Family Foundation helped open a school and also spent time visiting a local hospital, where they donated diabetes testing supplies.