Mile High Sports 2017 Humanitarian of the Year: Chris Harris Jr.

Credit: EAG Sports Management / Denver Broncos

This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

Flying High to Help

Chris Harris Jr. spreads his wings in his community

By Casey Light & Matthew Stefanski

On NFL Sundays there are few players who cover the field as widely as Chris Harris Jr. A cornerstone member of Denver’s decorated “No Fly Zone” secondary, Harris can cover opposing pass-catchers just about anywhere they line up and any place they might try and get open.

When he’s not locking down the top receiving targets in the NFL, Harris is spreading his wings just as wide to make an impact in his community – both in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla. and in his adopted home, Denver.

Harris’ underdog story is well-known: Only one Division I football scholarship offer and rising to become an All-Pro after going undrafted out of Kansas. His Chris Harris Jr. Foundation was born from that story and provides underprivileged youth with unique opportunities so they can better achieve their goals.

In Colorado, that means working with Denver Children’s Home, which helps kids and families who have survived trauma, neglect and abuse confront serious mental health challenges. It’s manifest in his annual “Shop with a Jock” event that sends kids from DCH and the Salvation Army on a holiday shopping spree with an athlete at no charge to them. It provides warmth during hard times with his “Coats for a Cause” campaign, which this year collected 350 coats and raised more than $6,000 for DCH.

Aiding his efforts to better the community is his wife, Leah, who helped him launch the foundation in 2012.

“Chris and his wife Leah are true heroes to Denver Children’s Home,” executive director Rebecca Hea says of their efforts. “They are incredibly generous yet humble people who make authentic connections and work to maximize the impact of their good works. We are so grateful to them for helping us bring hope and healing to struggling kids and families.”

Lt. Col. Daniel Starrett, Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army Intermountain Division says this:

“It’s a joy to see our afterschool children spend time with Chris Harris Jr. Their entire faces light up when he’s around. Chris takes the time to listen and interact with each and every child, making them realize truly how special they all are. For a brighter future, we need to invest and believe in our youth; Chris Harris Jr. shares in this vision with our organization”

Harris sees a bit of himself in the kids he helps, and hopes they see the same.

“It’s definitely important, especially for me, trying to do everything I can with my platform to be able to impact them. I think everybody can relate to my story,” he says. “It makes it kind of easy to understand that not everything’s given to you in life, so I try to give that same motivation to those younger kids.”

This summer Harris took his efforts one step beyond, partnering with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to launch Mentor Colorado’s #MentoringFlipped awareness campaign. Mentor Colorado supports the growth and development of over 65 mentoring agencies statewide, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, with whom Harris works directly.

“It is great to have such a well-known athlete understand the value of people and positive relationships in the development of a young person,” Brad Strong of Mentor Colorado says. “Through our mentoring flipped campaign and in collaboration with Denver’s Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Chris was able to reach almost one million people with his powerful message to ‘Become a Mentor.’”

His work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado is more personal and direct, as Dave Ryan, CEO, Donor and Mentor for BBBSC explains:

“Chris has been an incredible contributor to the Denver community and a real hero to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. Most recently, Chris and his wife Leah launched the Underdog Student Success Initiative to engage students facing adversity in a meaningful way both on and off the field. The initiative culminated with a pizza party in which Harris joined Littles who completed the program. In addition, Chris offered turkeys at Thanksgiving to families enrolled in the BBBSC program and funded a $1,000 college scholarship.”

Harris also serves as the player liaison in the team’s partnership with Denver Rescue Mission, earning him the Broncos Community Ambassador Award each of the past two seasons.

“Chris has really stepped up to make an impact with our families in need,” Stacy Parker, public relations coordinator for Denver Rescue Mission, says about Harris’ involvement there. “It’s great to see him be such an encouragement to our families and to other players on the team to give back and serve the community.”

Beyond his work helping “underdogs,” Harris since 2013 has supported statewide and nationwide initiatives to speak out against domestic violence. This year he became the Broncos’ spokesperson for a statewide public service campaign in partnership with Stand Up Colorado, a collaborative violence prevention campaign spearheaded by the Colorado Attorney General that goes beyond public awareness to alter behavior and affect long-term social change.

“Stand Up Colorado is proud to have Chris as a part of the movement to end relationship violence in our state,” says Michael Teague, communications coordinator for Stand Up Colorado. “He provides a strong voice to rally Broncos Country around this issue and communicate to those who are using abusive behaviors that what they are doing is not okay, but it is okay to ask for help.”

Harris doesn’t keep score with his charity partners as he does against opposing offenses. He’s focused simply on having a positive impact that is both deep and wide.

“We want to be versatile, be able to impact a multitude of kids, not just one specific section. I think that’s huge to be able to have those partners, they help me out tons,” Harris says.

The always-humble Harris understands that his work with the charitable partners does not stand by itself.

“Those are organizations that have been impacting those kids for years,” he says, “and so to just be a part of them and associated with them is a blessing, for sure.”

For those keeping track (not that Harris is), that’s at least six different Denver and Colorado nonprofit organizations with whom Harris has partnered through the years – and that’s not including Harris’ own charitable foundation, which hosts annual camps in Tulsa and sponsors a youth basketball team there.

What’s most impressive is that the list is still growing. Harris plans to expand his efforts in 2018, with a lofty long-term goal in mind.

“We want to get a community center. We want to continue to add more kids, try to add 500 more kids, and try to do that every year,” Harris says.

He’s a world champion and All-Pro on the field. His work off the field is no less impressive, making Chris Harris Jr. our 2017 Humanitarian of the Year.

Featured image credit: EAG Sports Management / Denver Broncos

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Help Chris Harris Jr. Help Others

Support Chris Harris Jr.’s efforts in the community by donating to or becoming involved with one of the organizations he supports:

…or make a direct donation to his foundation at chrisharrisjr.com.

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