When Damon Harrison was just 15 years old, Hurricane Rita ripped through the Gulf of Mexico, forcing his family in Lake Charles, Louisiana to evacuate. To this day, Harrison says the adversity he faced in the aftermath of that storm defines him more than anything that's happened to him before or since.
Years later, Harrison, a seventh-year defensive tackle who joined the Giants in 2016, formed the I Told the Storm Foundation, which serves to give back to disadvantaged youth in his hometown of New Iberia.
For his efforts, and for his community service in the New York/New Jersey area as a member of the Giants, Harrison, known more commonly as "Snacks", received this year's Hometown Hero award from the United Way of New York City at the organization's 25th Gridiron Gala. Held at the New York Hilton Midtown, Harrison was honored alongside Jets offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum, his club's winner of the award.
"We established the foundation to empower the youth around my hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana," Harrison said during his acceptance speech. "We do it by providing a variety of enriching activities that encourage personal growth and improve the quality of life. Annually, my foundation hosts a Snacks family weekend. It's everything from basketball games, football camps, motivational speakers, music and a lot of that good Louisiana cuisine."
In addition, Harrison also gives back to the families of New Iberia through Thanksgiving turkey drives and Christmas toy drives, as well as an annual back-to-school backpack event that includes activities to help create positive self-image, decision making and interpersonal relationships.
"The work United Way does in the community is amazing," Harrison said. "It doesn't go unnoticed to guys like myself. We talk about a lot of these things in the locker room. It's why you have nonprofits like mine, watching the work United Way does. It encouraged me to start my own foundation."
The United Way and the NFL have been partners for more than 40 years. The annual Gridiron Gala celebrates the partnership between the Giants and United Way of New York City, as both organizations work to impact children and families living in some of the city's most-challenged neighborhoods.
"We have been proud partners of United Way of New York City for more than 20 years, and the Gridiron Gala has provided a platform for us to raise significant funding for the outstanding work they do in our community," said Giants President and CEO John Mara.
In addition to Harrison's work in his hometown, the 2016 All-Pro has rolled up his sleeves in the Tri-State area, as well. Last season, Harrison and several of his teammates volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for a military veteran in nearby Washington Township. He also participated in a ride-a-long with the Newark Police Department's Bronze Shields and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to learn about the department's community efforts and the challenges of policing. Harrison also provided Christmas meals and toys for over 150 kids and families in Brooklyn through a fundraiser in Roslyn Harbor that raised more than $150,000 for The Anderson Center for Autism, I Told the Storm Foundation, Life's WORC and the Family Center for Autism.
Learn more about Harrison's I Told the Storm Foundation at his website.
Damon Harrison receives the Hometown Hero award at the 25th annual United Way Gridiron Gala