When All-Pro Defensive End Joe Johnson left Packers headquarters Wednesday following the final mini-camp practice, it wasn't to take a break from the game. It was merely to exchange his practice cleats for a coach's whistle.
Johnson, who is entering his second year with the Packers and 10th in the league, embarked on the second half of his eight-week, nine-city interactive outreach tour called United We Jam II, which encompasses football camps, hip-hop concerts, training workshops, celebrity basketball games, tournaments and motivational speaking engagements at schools and colleges.
Nearly 60 kids of all ages took part in Thursday's activities, a free football skills camp which was held at Franklin Middle School in Green Bay.
The tour is hosted by Built 2 Last - The Joe Johnson Foundation, and includes stops in Atlanta, Cleveland, Green Bay, Houston, Milwaukee and Johnson's hometown of St. Louis.
"The concept behind it is an actual tour that combines community and youth development with live entertainment and physical activity," Johnson said. "We do other programs like Rush for Reading, the VERB Program and 'I can, I am,' which is a self esteem program for teen-age kids.
"We try to keep it fun and keep the kids' attention while at the same time, try to teach them some general life skills, things that will help them in the future by developing the overall individual, not just physically but mentally as well."
Making a special appearance at Thursday's event was the mayor of Green Bay, Jim Schmitt. Mayor Schmitt spoke to the youth, encouraging them that no matter what they wanted to do in life, if they put their mind to it, then they could accomplish anything.
Schmitt also recognized the outreach work that Johnson does within the community and in other cities by proclaiming June 12, 2003, official "Youth Football Camp Day" in Green Bay.
"The Packers are just a great entity to have in this city, and not only for what they do on Sundays during football season, but the community support that they give, and Joe is an example of that," Schmitt said. "Sometimes these football players are bigger than life, and to really get where the kids can see them and see the real person and how much they do care about the community and the children is worthy of a proclamation and that's why I totally support this.
"I'm very pleased with what the Packers do in this community and as mayor, I'm lucky to be mayor of a city that has an NFL franchise and especially the Green Bay Packers."
The primary focus of Johnson's foundation, Built 2 Last, which was started during Johnson's tenure with the New Orleans Saints, has been working with underprivileged youth and minority communities. The foundation has assisted numerous non-profit groups and causes. Local charity organizations such as Boys to Men, Giving Back to the Hood, Boys & Girls Town of New Orleans in addition to the Red Cross, the September 11th Fund and the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters and other groups have benefited from Built 2 Last proceeds.
Johnson, who perhaps is as passionate about helping children develop self-esteem and find their own aspirations in life as he his about the game of football, received support from several of his teammates during the event, including Rob Davis, Darren Sharper and Erwin Swiney, who shared their knowledge of the game by coaching the kids through different drills and scrimmages.
"It's great to have them out here," Johnson said. "That's what this is all about, putting smiles on these kids' faces. It's all about the community and the youth and it's just a chance for us to help one another be teammates, on and off the field."