*Most people first heard of the United Athlete Foundation when it’s board member, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, became a mentor to LaShaun Armstrong, the 10 year-old boy who escaped the van that his mother drove into the Hudson River on April 12, killing herself and LaShaun’s three younger siblings.

But the organization has been around since 2008, pooling the unique resources of athletes across all professional sports with the singular goal of improving lives. So far, members of the NFL, NBA, MLB, WNBA and professional boxing have signed on to the effort.

“We’ve built a powerhouse of over 150 athletes now who get this one thing, and that is anything we can do together is possible, but if we do it individually, we lose,” Lewis told EUR exclusively at member Shad Ireland’s recent fundraiser to fight kidney disease. “So now all the knowledge and things we have going on, we can now come back to the communities and educate them.”

In May, the group established the UAF Children’s Relief Endowment Fund to provide mentoring, tutoring, and counseling for LaShaun Armstrong and other kids in similar situations.  The goal is to raise $5 million in the next two years that would support kids in disastrous situations, such as traumatic family loss, notes UAF President and co-founder Reggie Howard. Lewis and fellow member Mike McKenzie each donated $10,000.

The organization’s outreach, however, is limitless, Howard stresses. Whether it’s raising money and awareness for health and wellness issues, financial literacy, the plight in Africa or to fight diseases, the UAF serves as an umbrella organization that empowers each member-athlete to carry out their personal cause in their own communities.

“We’re almost a leadership training organization,” explains Howard. “Because if we can make these guys ambassadors – Shad the ambassador of kidney disease, Ray the ambassador of everything – just having guys that are in those areas is like you’re teaching those guys how to fish, and they can now go into their own area and do what they do in Baltimore, or Canada, or Minnesota or Atlanta.  And look at the type of mass impact that you’re actually making now. Now we’re not trapped into one category where, ‘Oh, all those guys care about is kidney disease,’ or all they care about is cancer, or Africa.”

Below, Ray Lewis explains how his grandmother’s longtime struggle with kidney disease influenced his decision to join the UAF cause.

UAF member Ray Lewis on Grandmother’s Kidney Disease by CherieNic