Chris Canty attended high school in North Carolina, college in Virginia and began his NFL career in Texas, but his heart never left the New York metropolitan area.
"I grew up right there on Bartow Avenue across the street from Co-Op City in the Bronx," Canty said. "My oldest brother Sekou is a Truman High School grad. I have a lot of memories and had a lot of good times."
In 2009, Canty returned to his roots when he signed as a free agent with the Giants after four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. For him, it was a tremendous opportunity to not only play for his hometown team, but to expand his seemingly ceaseless work in the community.
"It's a really special experience to have the opportunity to play professional football in my hometown," Canty said. "This is where I'm from. I can't put it into words. I'm blessed. I'm thankful and I try to take the opportunity to give back when I can."
Few players do that as enthusiastically and completely as Canty. His Chris Canty Foundation is, to quote its website, "dedicated to enhancing the total development of youth in our communities." Canty hosts football camps in two states and a golf tournament. He has served meals at food banks, purchased and delivered toys and taken a mission trip to the Bahamas. Canty often attends events in support of his teammates or the Giants' organization.
For his participation in so many worthwhile endeavours and his tireless work on behalf of others, Canty was selected as the Giants' Man of the Year. He was honoured at the Giants' recent Kickoff Luncheon in MetLife Stadium.
Canty doesn't have to spend so much time working in the community. As a single and wealthy young man in the big city, Canty has countless alternatives to spend his time and money. But he chooses to reach out to youngsters and other people in need. Which leads to the question…why?
"It really comes from my faith," said Canty, the 2011 Giants Hometown Hero for the United Way of New York City. "I'm a Christian man and I believe that part of God's purpose for my life is to be in service to those are around me. Having the opportunity to play in the National Football League and then play in my hometown is a blessing. I try to take that opportunity to give back to the kids in the community. I can't think of anything more worthwhile than making a difference in their lives. It's something that I not only look at as a responsibility, but a privilege."
In 2007, Canty began running a youth football camp in Charlotte, where his family moved after departing the Bronx and where he was a football star at Charlotte Latin School. He invited friends, teammates and players from around the NFL. This year, he held a camp in New York City for the first time. Jason Pierre-Paul and Michael Boley were among the Giants who attended the camp.
The camps were successful, but Canty thought he could do more. So he started his foundation after joining the Giants.
"I wanted to be more organized in my philanthropic endeavors," Canty said. "I wanted to be more structure so we can maximize our impact and be more efficient with the financial resources, so the Chris Canty Foundation was born. Our mantra is "Sowing Seeds in Good Soil." We want to be the vehicle that plants the seed in a child's mind that can maybe influence them to aspire to achieve greatness to be successful. We recognize that it just really starts with that one fire, that one spark. We try to provide that for a lot of the kids in the New York metropolitan area as well as in North and South Carolina. Anytime somebody calls me or asks me to do something, I look at it an opportunity. I look at it as a privilege. If I can make the time to do it, I do it because I believe that's a part of my purpose."
Canty's other older brother, Joseph, is the foundation's director. His parents, Joseph and the Rev. Shirley Canty, as well as Sekou are also intimately involved. It is fitting that the foundation is a family affair, because it was through his parents that Canty first learned the importance and gratification of giving.
"Giving back was something we've been doing since I was a small child," said Canty, who must have been small a long time ago as he now stands at 6-7 and 317 pounds. "My parents have been very instrumental in getting me involved in the community, pointing me in the right direction, teaching me how to give back and how to be effective in utilizing my platform. The core values and principles they instilled in me are a large part of why I'm here today."
To review all of Canty's good works would require a small hardcover book. And it would require some digging, because he is not exactly a self-promoter. And while he could be fulfilled ladling soup to a hungry man or dispensing toys dressed as Santa Claus, Canty derives special enjoyment from hosting the Chris Canty Camp of Champions. They combine two of his loves, football and working with youngsters.
"To have an opportunity to instill those core values that I have – hard work, dedication, leadership, self esteem means so much," Canty said. "We get to teach kids all of these things through a game that I love. The lessons transcend way beyond football. Teaching kids teamwork, which is something that's very big these days. Teaching kids how to not only get along, but work with other kids in order to be successful and achieve a desired outcome."
The campers are at rapt attention when any of the pros speak or instruct them. But nobody commands more respect than Canty, simply because of his size.
"I have this imposing stature," Canty said. "We have the opportunity to command their attention and we put them to work. We ask a lot of the kids. It's a hard-working camp, so they're tired when they go home, but that's part of the experience. We want them to understand what it feels like to work hard. We want them to understand what it takes to achieve. Nothing in this world that's worth it is ever easy and we want them to understand that. That's part of our message that we're communicating through the work, through the skills."
Of course, it takes plenty of money to run the foundation, which accepts donations of any size. That's why Canty's foundation held its first annual Champions Golf Classic on May 14 at the Manhattan Woods Golf Club in West Nyack, New York.
"It's something that's out of the box for us," Canty said. "I'm an avid golfer. My father is as well. We thought it would be a great way to have supporters of the Chris Canty Foundation interact with not only myself, but with some of the other players and other celebrities around the area in order to raise money for a great cause. It was a successful event. I was really pleased about it. Even Coach (Tom) Coughlin came out. That was awesome.
"That's in part of how we help fund (the foundation). Obviously, I'm a huge donor and we have other private donors. We try to encourage everybody in the community to give back, whether it's a dollar, whether it's $10. Whatever you have, give it. It's necessary. But not only the financial support, we also ask people to donate their time. We have mentoring and tutoring initiatives that we're starting. If you don't have financial resources to give, you might have a skill set. You might have a particular talent that you can offer to kids. Even if it's just sitting down and reading to the kids for 30 minutes in a given time, we just try to encourage people to do whatever they can."
Canty also stretched his border this year by traveling to Nassau in the Bahamas. Although the work was similar, the audience was new.
"That was a mission trip through the United Methodist Church," Canty said. "My mother, Reverend Canty, is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church - the Western North Carolina Conference. The conference asked would I be willing to be part of a mission trip and deliver a series of messages to the kids. I said sure and while we're down there, maybe we can do a camp for the Bahaman kids that are interested in American football. We hosted a two-day camp for about 75 Bahaman kids. We went over basic skill set and taught the fundamentals of football. They're not as advanced as some of the kids here might be, but they're still very avid fans of football."
The Giants' community relations department considers Canty a go-to player who will attend any community event for which he is available.
"Particularly when it comes to volunteering with the food bank at the shelter around Thanksgiving time, because that's a passion of mine," Canty said. "That goes back to my Dallas days, volunteering around the holidays to serve those that don't have a hot meal. Just to be in service, that's just a passion of mine. That's not necessarily affiliated with the Chris Canty Foundation and its mission, but it's something that I like to do."
So is spending time with children. Canty annually purchases hundreds of toys for children from the Bronx who participate in the United Way after school program. And to make sure a good time is had by all, Canty dresses as Santa to deliver the gifts and host a pizza party.
"When you start talking about the Christmas toy giveaway, those are ideas that we came up with through the Chris Canty Foundation working with the United Way of New York City," Canty said. "It's great to have the opportunity to find kids that are excelling in schools that are at or below the poverty line and to make sure that those kids have a Merry Christmas. Some kids, some families can't afford to buy toys for their kids. It's a hard economic time. We want to make sure that reward those kids that are doing well. We don't want to see that fire extinguished. We want to make sure that we are able to provide that spark and to keep them motivated and to let them enjoy being a kid but also to help them to understand what it takes to be successful."
Canty is clearly passionate about helping others. Enthusiasm practically oozes through his pores when he speaks of the enjoyment he gets from working with youngsters.
Of course, Canty experienced another type of euphoria last February 5, when the Giants defeated New England in Super Bowl XLVI.
"Winning the Super Bowl is the icing on the cake," Canty said. "Obviously, we're in a high performance business. We set out every year to win a Super Bowl. I'm thankful to have that opportunity. But having an opportunity to give back to kids, that's something that just doesn't stop there. You see the development of the child. The child becomes a young adult. The young adult becomes a young man or woman. To see them and to inspire them to continue to give back and to pour into other people, to other young people in order to help them be to be successful; it just keeps going. So just to see some of the kids that we've touched earlier on with our camps that started back in '07 and to see them be successful now in college or in their given professions, it's awesome. To see them wanting to give back to their communities, that's just something that you can't quantify. It's a special feeling and it becomes addictive. It's like when you do it once, you want to do it more. It gets to the point where it's just like a drug. It makes me feel good when I have the opportunity to do it."
Canty, now in his eighth NFL season, doesn't know how long he'll play football. More certain is his time frame for helping others – as long as possible.
"This is something that I will definitely continue past my playing career," he said. "I will always take the opportunity to give to young people. I'm thankful for this platform to be able to do it in this scale and hopefully as I continue to grow as a man and a professional, I'll be able to enhance my impact to do more. Obviously, I have my limitations now because I'm a professional football player. This is my job. This is my job and I love my job. No question about it. But this is something that I will do forever, God willing."