By Shannon Scovel
Ten years ago, Evan Oglesby changed the city of Toccoa, Georgia.
The former NFL cornerback, who played for the Cowboys, Ravens and Dolphins throughout his professional career, always knew he wanted to help kids, particularly those in his hometown. He started by giving out college scholarships to graduating seniors, but then ultimately decided to move back to Georgia and start a children’s foundation.
“I had no desire, when I originally left, to come back here to Toccoa, a small town,” Oglesby said. “Being able to travel and go out and experience the world is a dream come true, but while doing so, I remembered that there are more kids from my hometown that probably have similar situations, that wanted more out of life but don’t know how to get there. So that’s when I made the decision to move back to my hometown to open up my center and start my program there.”
His passion, connection to his hometown, and skills on the football field, prompted Oglesby to start the Evan Oglesby Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping kids achieve success through three principles: Academics, physical fitness and social responsibility.
“Academics is one of the main focuses that we try to preach in everything that we do here,” Oglesby said. “We focus on education because a lot of athletes, once they become successful, if they don’t have that strong academic background, the percentage of them remaining successful starts to decline.”
A college standout himself, Oglesby graduated from the University of Northern Alabama as a Division II All-American, recording 224 tackles and 13 interceptions during his college career and earning a spot in the school’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
“It truly is an honor to be on the wall of fame at my university, and I’m just so thankful that someone thought highly of me to induct me into that unique organization,” Oglesby said.
Throughout college, Oglesby said he volunteered with the YMCA while playing football, and his experience allowed him to pick up skills and identify places where he could make an impact. Having been a member of the Boys and Girls Club since childhood, Oglesby said his inspiration to be a part of a non-profit started young, and he wanted to create an organization that offered more than the Boys and Girls Club. He strove to create a similar center that attracted kids and helped them grow into successful individuals.
Since 2006, the Evan Oglesby Foundation has offered its own unique set of programs for children in the area, and Oglesby said he hopes to grow the organization into “the Walmart of non-profits, a one-stop shop,” a place where children and parents can grow together.
The center currently enrolls about 200 kids a week for annual programs, which include sports performance camps, weekly devotions, motivational speakers and summer activities. The specific programs, Oglesby said, are designed intentionally, meet the needs of the community, and provide opportunities for things that he had not seen in other places.
“Pretty much all I did was just open the doors up for kids to come through, and I asked them what they wanted to do with their lives,” he said. “We started putting programs together that helped foster those demands that they were asking for.”
The program, now in its tenth year, will offer its first flag football fall program, a development that Oglesby said was in direct response from the interest he was receiving from parents. A growing concern about concussions has led to an elevated demand for flag football, he said, and he hopes that the new program will continue to get families involved in the sport and network with one another.
While the foundation provides sporting activities and an outlet for kids to learn and grow, Oglesby said the last ten years have also produced a change in the success levels for high school athletes in and out of the classroom.
“We’ve had a decrease in high school dropouts,” Oglesby said. “We’ve had an increase in high school graduates that are pursuing a secondary education, we’re having more successful athletic programs within our school system, and ultimately we are seeing an improvement in behavior in schools with our kids.”
Improvement and expansion is a major goal for 2016 for both the students and his non-profit, Oglesby said, and he hopes to futher advance the foundation in the future. But for now, Toccoa will continue to benefit from the work of this local NFL player and his desire to help those around him.