Many of the kids playing in the Jeremiah Program's parking lot Monday night, brushing past Anthony Barr as they raced around to stay busy and stay warm, were infants when the Vikings linebacker started volunteering there seven years ago.
Eighteen of the students who received scholarships in the first five years of Barr's foundation have graduated from college, moving on to careers and opportunities that might not have been possible without the assistance the organization gave to single parents like Barr's mother, Lori, had been.
"The Minneapolis community really embraced me as one of their own, and it was only right to give back," Barr said. "That's kind of what we're trying to do: just show our gratitude for the last five, six, seven, eight years that I've been here. It's heartwarming, man. It makes you want to continue to do good work, because you know it's working."
After a Saturday practice before a game earlier this fall, Barr got a chance to appreciate the scope of that work, when Lori Barr and some of the mothers the Barrs have supported surprised him at the Vikings' practice facility. Eric Kendricks — Barr's close friend, teammate since college and the Vikings' 2020 nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award — was there, too, in a custom Vikings jersey with Barr's No. 55 on it and "Man of the Year" on the nameplate.
The team made the news public Tuesday morning: Barr was named the Vikings' Community Man of the Year, as the team recognized him for his work in support of single mothers through the course of his eight-year career.
Barr will be one of 32 players in the running for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, the league's highest off-field honor. The award is given on Super Bowl weekend to one player for excellence on the field and in the community.
"It's probably one of my biggest honors," Barr said. "It's always been about giving back. It's not about myself — it never has been — whether it's on the field or off the field. I'm just happy to be here, and to provide some opportunities to families like mine."
Lori Barr raised her kids as a single mother working on hourly wages and receiving public assistance through a Women, Infants and Children program. She eventually earned post-secondary and post-graduate degrees, and after the Vikings picked Anthony Barr ninth overall in the 2014 draft, he started the Raise the Barr Foundation with his mother to help parents in the situation she had encountered.
The organization has awarded nearly $378,000 in financial aid over the past five years, giving nearly all of its 54 scholarships to women and issuing $50,000 COVID-19 emergency grants in Minnesota and California last year.
"At least for us, it's about providing opportunities for families to regain control of their lives," Barr said. "A lot of the hardships, I'm sure, financially especially, I can relate, growing up with a single parent. I was fortunate enough to have a good support system at home. We know that's not the same for every family. So we try to bridge that gap."
He has been involved with the Vikings' social justice committee since its inception in 2018, and joined Kendricks among 18 prominent NFL players in a June 2020 video, telling the league to take concrete steps in fighting systemic racism after the murder of George Floyd in south Minneapolis.
His work with the Jeremiah Program — which supports single parents and their children — has included annual holiday parties at the organization's Minneapolis headquarters and an effort to help renovate five computer labs with a donation from the Vikings and Country Financial. During a June 2020 virtual event for the Jeremiah Program, Barr announced a $20,000 commitment from the social justice committee and his own $10,000 gift, which was matched by two donors.
When he returns to visit now, as he did on Monday night for an outdoor holiday party in single-digit temperatures, "I feel like I'm going to my grandma's house," he said.
"It's like home, really: We joke around, give each other a hard time, but it's all love at the end of the day. It's a good, welcoming environment, one that's nurturing," he added. "They're molding the futures of these kids. I think it's important what they're doing in the Jeremiah Program, and what we're doing with Raise the Barr."