NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston doesn't just inspire on the field. He's also an inspiration to a group of teens who've worked to turn around their troubled lives.
Colston's partnered with WAT-AHH!, a New York-based bottled water company geared toward making kids live healthier lives, and AMIkids Inc., a not-for-profit with juvenile justice and alternative education programs in nine states, including Louisiana. Most teenagers in the program are dealing with issues ranging from low self-esteem to criminal run-ins. But Colston says their problems don't define them and they're examples of how "you can take adversity and beat it head on."
The Hoftsra University and Saints star set up a meet-and-greet with some of his teammates before Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs for 12 winners of an essay contest sponsored by WAT-AAH!. The company launched a limited-edition water bottle featuring Colston's No. 12 jersey. It's available at Rouse's Supermarkets in Louisiana and Mississippi. Proceeds for sales benefit AMIkids.
"These kids are primary examples of how you can take adversity and beat it head on," Colston said. "Just seeing the determination of these kids, fighting through adversity and keeping their eyes on the prize is amazing."
Sherry Ulleg, spokeswoman for AMIkids, said the programs nurture students who have been unsuccessful in traditional school environments.
"Everything we do is individualized, from educational programs to counseling to behavioral services," she said. "We help them form a plan to proceed with their lives in a positive way."
The program generally lasts six to nine months, she said.
Maryam Heim of Jefferson, La., said the program has given her a sense of vision.
"I was constantly getting into trouble," she said. "They've really helped me to focus on my grades and helped me in the way that I deal with or react to things. It's been real positive for me."
Heim, who has graduated from the program, said she has a "plan for my life."
"I want to go to the Air Force and then college and study science and technology. Before this, I didn't know what I wanted to do."
Colston, Heim said, is a "great example of the word 'perseverance'."
She said he's helped her realize that nothing in life is impossible. "No matter your background, if you do your best and believe, you can be whatever you want to be," she said.
New York-based WAT-AAH! Produces a premium line of vapor-distilled water with electrolytes designed for physically active youngsters.
Colston said he partnered with the company to bring awareness to childhood obesity and to promote healthy lifestyles. "Improving the lives and well-being of children and educating kids about the importance of living healthy makes it a perfect marriage," he said. "It's given me a great platform to push these ideas."
WAT-AAH!' founder Rose Cameron said the 12 essay winners had to describe their desire to change their lives and commitment to achieving specific goals and dreams.
"We're very fortunate to be in this place to be able to help out," she said. "These kids have proven that they can pick up and start over and they're inspiring us. Our goal is to tell the world their stories and hope in the end that other kids will be inspired to make positive choices."
Colston's celebrity likely spurred some of the teens' interest.
"I hope it does," Colston said, "but it's really not about me. It's more about celebrating the things they've overcome and the great things they're doing to move forward. This is an opportunity for us to applaud their efforts and hopefully encourage others in the process."
AMIkids, Inc.: www.amikids.org