When Champ Kelly and his wife Stephanie drove from Denver to Kentucky for their wedding, Heart Power Inc. was born.
“The whole drive across Kansas, he’s talking about his vision and how he wants to set it up,” Stephanie said with a laugh.
Kelly had been in the Broncos’ scouting department and finally had the platform to build the type of charity he had dreamed of while growing up on the dirt roads in rural Campbellton, Fla.
During the road trip, Kelly called his high school coach Rob Armstrong to lay out the plans. Then he talked with Dougie Allen, his best friend and former roommate, as the two loved to do work in the community together back in Lexington.
“Heart Power” comes from a Vince Lombardi quote that resonated with Kelly.
“The intense focus that once you decide what you want to do, nothing can stop you short of success. Basically what that quote says,” he said. “That's the heart power. I want those kids that we're able to come in contact with to know that if they set their goal and their focus on something greater than themselves, that nothing can stop them. They can get there.”
He didn’t necessarily want the football camps to have his name on it, but C.H.A.M.P. stands for Character, Heart, Attitude, Motivation and Pride, so it was the clear winner. The free camps took place this month in Lexington and Panama City, Fla.
“We want these kids to have the opportunity to see something other than their current environment,” said Kelly. “Some kids are only around alcoholics and drug dealers and negative environments. We want them to be in a place where they’re going to get people devoting their time and investing in them who are all successful in all different genres and walks of life.”
Coaches volunteer their time for the camps, which can host 250 kids. Stephanie helps organize lodging for the coaches and all the meals. Champ helps recruit the coaches and runs the football portion of the camps along with Allen and other former coaches and players.
When the Bears hired Ryan Pace in 2015, Kelly got the opportunity to move up in the front-office hierarchy. Now the team’s director of pro scouting, Kelly continues to balance the busy life of an NFL scout with his charity.
“We all have busy lives and a lot of demands on our time but I give Champ credit how he has made it a point to keep his charity a constant even as he has grown and achieved success across the NFL,” Pace said.
There are only a few weeks a year when the NFL world truly quiets down, and Kelly uses two of them for the C.H.A.M.P. camps.
Armstrong, whose children attend the camps, has heard Kelly speak about what he went through. It’s the message of perseverance that sticks with the high school football coach.
“You weren’t going to beat him in the classroom, you weren’t going to beat him on the field, you weren’t going to beat him in a talking contest. He would win that too,” Armstrong said. “That’s just the kind of person he is.”
The hope in the Kelly family is to one day expand the camps to the Chicago area, and Kelly knows he would have the support of the organization and Bears fans.
“One of the reasons I love this organization and I love being here is we are so community minded, and that stems from the top, the McCaskey-Halas family,” Kelly said. “That love for the community and the city, it's tangible inside of this building. You feel it. Once we do get rolling, there's no telling what we'll be able to accomplish.”
To learn more about Heart Power and the C.H.A.M.P. Camps, go to heartpowerinc.org