If you saw Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen walking around downtown Indy, you'd probably forget all decorum and switch into pure, embarrassing "fan boy" mode to grill him about his game.
Considering his kind nature, he'd likely oblige. And though he'd gladly discuss his football career, Allen would probably want to bend your ear about his other passion in life -- one that many school children and library patrons have come to realize -- promoting literacy in his community.
Though Allen's 6-foot-3-inch, 265-pound frame proves capable of taking big hits on the football field during the playing season, his mind stays set on hitting the books year-round.
"While I'm always training my body with football, I also need to train my mind," Allen said. "I do that by reading."
- Jeff Stanich
- Allen poses with Melanie Ohlsen, who won Colts season tickets just for using her library card.
"It doesn't have to be just books," he said. "It can be a magazine, newspaper, anything. As long as you're reading, you're bettering yourself."
He was at the Indianapolis Central Library yesterday afternoon at a gathering to congratulate the winner of a month-long competition he helped sponsor. Every person who checked out a book during February was automatically entered for a chance to win a set of Indianapolis Colts Football season tickets.
Out of the more than 38,000 book borrowers last month, 49-year-old Melanie Ohlsen won the grand prize. "It was so exciting to win something by doing what I love to do," Ohlsen said. "I think it's so important that [Allen] is supporting reading in the community."
A strong voice for literacy programs in general, Allen can be found at schools and libraries all around the city reading to children of all ages, but he isn't just focusing on them. He believes it is important for everyone to read whenever they can, because he said it is such an important part of life.
"When people ask why they should read, I say 'Why do you breath?' While air keeps you living, reading enriches the experience of life," Allen said.
He gives back to the community in many ways, but he said he is most passionate about literacy. By teaming up with the Indianapolis Public Library, Allen said he is able to promote a huge resource of knowledge that no one has to pay for out of pocket.
- Courtesy of Indianapolis Colts / Matt Bowen
- Dwayne Allen believes in the value of reading and wants to encourage a love of the written word in kids and adults.
Jackie Nytes, chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Public Library, said that having a voice like Allen's in the community literacy program changes the conversation.
"When I tell people to read, people don't always listen because it's my job," Nytes said. "[Allen] gets it. It has a lot more meaning when he tells people to read, because you don't expect it."
And though you might have expected to see him on the playing field more than you did last season, it couldn't be helped. Allen was sidelined much of the season due to injury, but he used all that off time to recuperate and read.
As an adult, Allen appreciates time with the books, but he wants children to feel that connection with reading early on. He thinks it is important to introduce reading to them at a young age so they want to keep doing it their entire lives.
But he's also realistic about the things that lure youngsters' attention away from the written word. He said he understands how easy it is to push off reading because there are so many other distractions on television and the Internet.
"I never had that person to push me to read when I was younger," Allen said. "Looking back I wish I did. So if I can be that to someone now, I'd be happy."
Nytes and the other librarians at the gathering all said they wished they could hire Allen to come be a professional reader at the library because he's so good at it.
For now, Allen said he is focusing on getting back on the field and doing whatever he can in the community to advocate reading.
"I don't know how long I'll be playing football, but I'm not ready to stop yet," he said. "I know I'll never stop reading, and I'm just trying to inspire others to read with me."