For Josh Doctson, the local library was once a refuge of sorts, a place where monetary funds didn’t dictate the clientele, and a young child like him could get lost in a book, a movie or any number of stuffed animals.
A sense of wonder and escapism could be found on every shelf, between every aisle. And long before Doctson ever donned a burgundy and gold uniform in the NFL, he was an elementary school student who found an outlet among countless pages of illustrated fiction. On Friday, the 25-year-old Redskins receiver was eager to see young children reap the same benefits.
Doctson, along with several Redskins players and members of the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, teamed with the Dale Jr. Foundation and Heart of America to transform the library at the LaSalle-Backus Educational Campus into an interactive learning center.
“They’re at the beginning stages of choosing different paths to go down, so I just want to be a part of them choosing the right path,” Doctson said. “I know this day might go overlooked, but I feel like this is a day that most of them will remember for a while. I think it’s huge. As small as it might be, in terms of what we did, there’s a bigger picture to it.”
LaSalle-Backus, located in northeast Washington, was chosen due to the students’ continued commitment to literacy in the Redskins Read Program, according to Jane Rodgers, executive director of the Redskins Charitable Foundation.
Roughly 50 volunteers, including Doctson, defensive end Anthony Lanier II, running back Samaje Perine, offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio and long snapper Nick Sundberg, remodeled the room, assembling furniture, and painting walls and a mural in the hallway that read: “We Can, We Will.”
“At the end of the school year, we pick several schools for a variety of different rewards such as this,” Rodgers said. “This was our biggest reward, and last year at the Welcome Home luncheon, together with Dale Jr. Foundation, we decided to do something together.”
The $100,000 overhaul included adding 20 iPads, 20 Dell laptops, 20 Logitech headphones and an assortment of computer tables, chairs, a Smartboard and 350 new books. Each student received four books to take home. The room also now includes a “Dale Jr. reading corner.” Inspirational quotes from former first lady Michelle Obama, author Toni Morrison, the late South African president Nelson Mandela, and the late George Allen, the former Redskins head coach and father of current team President Bruce Allen, now adorn the walls of the library.
Earnhardt, Jr., an avid Redskins fan, said it was “awesome” to join forces with his favorite team and Heart of America, which share “the same mission in helping underserved communities and the youth in those communities with better education, fighting hunger. “I never thought being a fan when I was a young boy, that I would have the chance to actually do things with the organization,” he said. “So this is a really cool thing as a fan, and it’s awesome that the players are here to invest their own personal time to do things like this.”
Earnhardt, whose wife is expected to give birth next week to their first child, sees the new-and-improved library as “a springboard” for LaSalle-Backus students “that will continue to pay off down the road as they go on into high school and eventually college.”
“When I was going to school,” he added, “it was books on a shelf. That was all the library was. But it’s more of an interactive space than a library, as we all knew it.”
Doctson acknowledged the responsibility he feels as a professional athlete to make a difference in the lives of others, particularly children. “It’s important to just be in the school, first of all, because we know the platform we hold with these kids,” he said. “So for them to see how we’re helping, just giving a helping hand in the library, painting a mural and having them ask us questions, it means the world to them — I’m assuming. I hope. So it just feels good to be a part of something like this.”
Having grown up with a strong appreciation for his local library, Doctson couldn’t help but smile when asked how an event such as this could have impacted him as a young boy. “To know that they were in here, in this library, and they, literally, with their hands, helped build this, that would be huge for me,” he said. “I’d brag to all my friends at different schools, that weren’t able to be part of it, so I know that’s what they’re doing. They’re walking by these halls, gazing [at us], so I know it’s a big deal for them.”
Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Councilmember Jack Evans also were on hand for the afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony inside the library.
“It’s not about our players, it’s not about myself, it’s not about Dale,” Snyder told the small crowd of mostly second-grade scholars seated on the floor in front of him. “It’s about you guys, and we really love you guys and we want you to be happy here. Enjoy this and cheer for our teams, and really, really succeed in life. Anything we can do to help, that’s what it’s about.”
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