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Nehemiah Project, NFL players B.J. Hill, Antonio Williams inspire kids to dream big

It was a homecoming Saturday morning for two Stanly County natives now playing in the NFL, as B.J. Hill and Antonio Williams interacted with children as part of the Nehemiah Project’s “Work Hard Dream Big” community event at the E.E. Waddell Community Center.

Around 100 kids registered for the event, which featured football and basketball drills along with arts and crafts. Pizza was provided at the end.

Nehemiah Project of Love is a community outreach organization that seeks to build up and partner with other local groups serving in the area, director Michelle Padilla said.

Started about a year and a half ago, the group, which gets its name from the book of Nehemiah in the Bible, works with others to help veterans, homeless individuals, those suffering with addiction and mental health issues, senior citizens, at-risk kids and domestic abuse survivors.

Paul Peters, founder of the group, estimates Nehemiah works with around 30 nonprofits and community organizations in the county. Though only in Stanly right now, the group is in the process of expanding its outreach into Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties.

The event at the Waddell Center was a way for the organization to encourage and inspire kids in the county to dream big and follow their passions.

“We want them to take away that their dreams are important, their dreams are valid, their dreams are valuable and we want them to be empowered to achieve them,” said Padilla, who led the kids during the arts portion of the event. She had them draw what they wanted to be when they got older on a long piece of white paper.

Kids took time to draw what they wanted to be when they got older. 

Hill and Williams, who coached the kids through numerous one-on-one drills, are both prime examples that through hard work, dreams can be achieved.

“It always is awesome giving back to the community, especially as a small-town kid,” said Hill, 25, who is from Oakboro and is a defensive end for the New York Giants.

After expressing his interest on social media late last year about partnering with local organizations to make a difference in his community, the Nehemiah Project reached out to him and they organized the event.

When young kids see Hill, “they can see someone that made it out of Oakboro and they got a chance to make it too as well,” he said.

The kids “could be the next B.J. Hill, president, doctor or whatever they want to be,” said the former West Stanly football standout.

B.J. Hill talks to the kids about a football drill.

While last season was tough, the Giants narrowly missed the playoffs, Hill is excited for the upcoming year and has confidence his team can make it back to the postseason.

Hill reached out to his friend Williams, a North Stanly graduate who is a running back with the Buffalo Bills, to help with the event.

“I told him to keep me updated on the details and I’d get down here,” said Williams, 23, whose Bills made to the AFC Championship game this year.

In week 17 against the Miami Dolphins, Williams ran for a team-high 63 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-point win.

Antonio Williams talks with his friend B.J. Hill.

Many of the kids especially enjoyed playing the role of receiver as Williams and organizers threw them mock-TD passes.

11-year-old Marcus gets free from 10-year-old Landon for a nice catch.

Danny Sanders led the kids through basketball drills. He came to be associated with Nehemiah Project after meeting Peters during an event in his hometown of Shelby.

The former Mars Hill University basketball player (who also played in Germany) uses his sports platform to mentor young kids through his organization Prime Time Peers. He’s traveled as far as California and Texas to help kids with his program.

“I think basketball is a good resource because a lot of kids look at it as a way out,” he said.

Danny Sanders works on basketball warm-up exercises with kids.

His group was also a way to honor one of his good friends, who wore the jersey number 24, and died in a rock climbing accident.

“I just made sure his brand (24) lives on forever,” he said, noting that he teaches kids that “in reality you only have 24 hours to make a change every single day.”

“Give it your best, give it your all every chance you get,” Sanders added. “Never waste time.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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