Once an NFL career ends, options are endless. Or are they limited? Depends on your mindset and personality.
For former NFL edge-rusher supreme Jared Allen, his future began before the end.
The five-time pro bowler and four-time all-pro opened a successful restaurant (The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen) in Tempe, Arizona, before his playing days concluded. And then he decided to help wounded veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan while still wrecking offenses on Sunday and compiling 136 career sacks on the controlled chaos of the gridiron.
The Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors, or JAH4WW, facilitates the construction of injury-specific, accessible and mortgage-free homes for veterans injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
“Well, I come from a long line of military veterans,” Allen told Military Influencer Magazine. “So military has just always been a huge part of our life, as far as you know, understanding why I got to do what we get to do and understanding the freedoms that we enjoy do come at a cost.”
Helping wounded warriors
However, Allen only became aware of the true plight of veterans wounded overseas after returning from a USO tour in 2007 when an Army friend explained the gap in adaptive housing.
“[To] be honest, I just didn’t know him that well at the time, I didn’t really pay that close attention to what he was talking about … And then when I came back in 2009 from the USO tour and getting to kind of meet and see firsthand some of the small daily sacrifices … I was so humbled by that experience, and hope took on a new meaning for me to see what goes into protecting it.”
A wise-with-age grounding and sense of purpose are apparent in Allen, a Christian man who played 13 seasons in the NFL. After the 2009 USO tour in the Middle East, he got together with another friend and reached out to his Army buddy. They all sat down, asking each other, “What is our American dream? What does hope mean to us?” JAH4WW was the answer.
“And so yeah, program’s evolved a little bit over the years, as we’ve gotten better at it,” Allen said. “And it’s been a fun journey. But that’s kind of the crux of why we started.”
The criteria for the program are narrow. The IRS mandates it for 501(c)(3) nonprofits. The applicant questionnaire acts as a kind of criteria filter. It ensures that Allen doesn’t have to tell people “no.”
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“I want to be able to, you know, filter out versus you open up the email box, and you have to tell people they don’t qualify, and that’s nothing I want to do to somebody,” he said. “I want them to be able to know firsthand, upfront, what our qualifications are.”
Allen said they don’t approve a home based on tentative funding. The project must be fully funded before it commences, which is a challenging undertaking.
“Most of our builds now are ground-up builds,” he said. “They’re just easier that way … Building houses is never easy. I have a great team with Alex Karalexis (JAH4WW executive director) and Amanda Baily (JAH4WW operations director) and our national partners, to where my day to day is very, very minimal, if anything … We just like to stay under the radar and get the job done. And we’ve been doing well so far.”
Some of Allen’s nonprofit partners include the Home Depot Foundation, KB Homes and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, nationally and locally. The relationships have allowed JAH4WW to develop a nationwide network of contractors and support to make these homes a reality for veterans requiring adapted dwellings due to traumatic circumstances. JAH4WW has provided nearly 25 homes in its 13-year history.
“And it’s been great,” he said. “We’re about to give a home away in Florida that’s in a KB home community. We’re probably going to give four homes away by the end of this year. We just approved another veteran the other day … So yeah, that’s how we do it.”
Allen finds inspiration in the tragic but triumphant stories of the dutiful and selfless veterans.
“So it’s a phenomenal feeling,” he said. “It’s a humbling feeling … to constantly hear a different story but the same story. They always feel someone else deserves it more than them. The gratitude and the humility of our veterans is so inspiring.”
And these feelings tend to galvanize Allen into action after completing a project.
“Each time I find myself right back at the beginning, fired up, energized, you know, wanting to go out there raise more money and get on to the next project and help another veteran.”