More often than not, athletes are iconic figures we admire from afar. They grace the covers of magazines, appear larger than life on cereal boxes and, thanks to satellite television, are broadcasted straight into our living rooms daily. We are a society devoted to role models whose personalities are constructed mostly from our imagination and the bits and pieces tossed to us through interviews and news articles. It is a rare occurrence to encounter our heroes in person — as former Tennessee Titans player, Chris Hope, puts it, it’s like encountering Sasquatch.
Maybe you’ve heard of Rock Hill, South Carolina; or as the locals like to call it, Football City, USA. The nickname was proudly bestowed upon the textile town of a little over 70,000 because it produces one NFL player per 8,512 people. Rock Hill is able to claim 21 NFL players of its own, including Chris Hope, who helped lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory in 2006.
Despite his success, Chris remained connected to his roots. Making sure he was not just a pillar for the communities he played in, but for the one that raised him as well.
“I think the bigger impact in my opinion is going back to your hometown where people have watched your entire career,” said Chris, “where the kids coming behind you go through the same struggles, the same temptations, hang out in the same spots, go to the same schools and are taught by the same teachers.”
In 2012, Chris and his wife, Linda Hope, opened the iCHOPE Charitable Fund at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. The Fund’s name pays homage to Chris’ hometown nickname, C-Hope.
Established to provide support for individuals and families from diverse backgrounds, the Hopes’ vision for the iCHOPE Fund is to showcase “everyone has a story” and inspire others to share their stories of adversity to achievement.
There’s no specific need the Fund addresses. “It’s whatever is on our hearts to give back to,” says Chris.
When the Fund initially began, the Hopes allowed people to submit letters explaining issues they were facing. One of their first calls to action was raising money to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle for a well-known school teacher who was unfortunately paralyzed in a car accident. Shortly thereafter, one of Chris’ cousins was being evicted from her home, so he and a few friends helped renovate some parts of the women’s shelter, where she was temporarily staying while she got back on her feet.
Wanting to take a bigger step with his philanthropic endeavors, in 2017 Chris began partnering with Wal-Mart and Chick-fil-A to provide 60-70 less fortunate Rock Hill elementary students with a free lunch and a $200 Wal-Mart shopping spree just in time for Christmas.
“Unfortunately, a lot of students only meal comes from being at school. It just so happens on the days we’ve done this event it was a half day,” said Chris. “So being that it was a half day, they would have been going home to no food. That’s where the Chick-fil-A experience came in.”
As of 2018, Chris can now add published author to his resume of accomplishments. His book P.R.O.S. (Parents Relying on Their Seeds) is a personal journey in learning to set healthy boundaries not only within ourselves, but with the ones we hold closest.
“The book is so much deeper than me being a football player, so much deeper than my experiences in the National Football League,” said Chris. “It’s about creating healthy boundaries which many of us don’t know how to do. And when you think about it, our healthiest boundaries need to be between those we love the most. Those are the boundaries we sometimes just let form on their own and they end up being detrimental to relationships in the end.”
Eventually, Chris would like to put his focus into creating what he calls “The Day of Hope,” a large-scale event which he plans to recruit past and present NFL players to assist. “But for the most part,” he said, “it’s more about our city and our community. Community builds community from within.”Make a Gift to iCHOPE Fund