Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:17 pm
After raising more than $300,000 through donations and fundraising events, the Justin J. Watt Foundation is in search of deserving athletic programs and organizations focused on youth to benefit from those dollars.
The foundation, launched in Pewaukee in 2010, aims to give middle school kids safe and fun after-school opportunities to participate in athletics so that they can try out sports as well as learn character traits such as accountability, teamwork, leadership, work ethic and perseverance.
Justin James “J.J.” Watt, a current defensive end for the Houston Texans and a former Badger football player, conceived the mission behind the Justin J. Watt Foundation during his tenure in Madison when he was volunteering his time with visits to patients at the American Family Children’s Hospital.
The idea for the nonprofit hit Watt during one particular visit when he encountered a child who had sustained injuries after school one day from another child who was simply bored.
“He wanted to make sure that all kids have a safe place to go after school and be kids,” said his mother, Connie Watt, who has been instrumental in getting the foundation off the ground and currently serves as vice president.
J.J. and family members like Connie established the Justin J. Watt Foundation as J.J. was quickly gaining attention as a star college athlete.
“He just wanted to do something to give back, and he thought that he would have the ability to raise funds through the support because he had such a support group with his fan base and the community,” Connie said. “And he figured that it would just be a great way to try and give back to children.”
While J.J., 24, juggles the game and travel schedule of an NFL player, Connie has devoted her full-time schedule to the livelihood of the foundation.
The organization has collected funding through a number of vehicles including social media, donations from all over the world, the sale of wristbands and clothing with the tagline “Dream Big Work Hard,” and several fundraising events.
In April, J.J. took part in the inaugural J.J. Watt Charity Classic, a charity softball tournament between Houston Texans offensive and defensive players. The game, held in metro Houston, raised more than $300,000 for the foundation and drew a maxed out audience of nearly 7,500 spectators.
“He’s definitely not just a name behind the organization,” Connie said.
Other events have included 5K runs in Pewaukee and golf tournaments in Madison with support from corporate giants like Pepsi and Walmart.
Now, the nonprofit is out to support the athletic-driven missions of schools and community organizations so that it can live out its own mission.
The foundation is targeting schools and organizations that provide after-school athletic opportunities to middle school students (grades six through eight) to help steer them in the right direction.
“At that age if you choose the wrong path, it’s a lot harder to get back on the right path,” Connie said.
Schools and programs in all cities are eligible to apply for funding and can access the nonprofit’s application at www.jjwfoundation.org. Along with submitting the application, interested schools and programs should attach an invoice with a request for a certain dollar amount.
All applications are reviewed by the foundation’s board of directors on a quarterly basis, and donated dollars must be used to fund critical components of athletic programs like equipment. The foundation also places priority on supporting schools and programs that demonstrate a significant financial need.
“We want to make certain that the school (or program) is in need, that it doesn’t have sufficient funding for this and that we wouldn’t be taking away from a school in need,” Connie said.