Chargers' Oben reaches out

Every year, Roman Oben invites kids to participate in his camp where they can learn from NFL players about football and life. Camp began on June 29 and runs through Friday, with 250 boys and girls between the ages of eight and 14 in attendance - there to meet and greet several San Diego Chargers.

It is part of the persona that defines Roman Oben off the football field.

The event, held at Westview High School not only teaches athletic skills with the likes of Oben, Nick Hardwick, Kris Dielman and other players from the San Diego Chargers and around the league, it also taps into the real world with advice for school, teaching the importance of respect, and planning for the future.

"You get speeches about life lessons," said Oben. "You try to make it a fun atmosphere. You try to make it so people can afford it and we give scholarships to kids so it really makes a difference. You really have a mixture of kids from all different backgrounds."

Besides the athletic and scholastic events, each kid leaves camp with a goodie bag – a camp t-shirt, an autographed photo, camp MVP awards and more.

Last year when Oben was signed and introduced, he headed to Washington D.C. where he attended an event he had previously scheduled, the same camp he has brought to San Diego.

Giving back has become commonplace for the Chargers left tackle.

"I have always been a guy – I am not afraid to talk to people," Oben explained. "I have a little bit of a different background being born in a different country.

"I realized at a young age the importance of young men and women that need mentoring. It seems like life is getting harder and harder. These parents can't get to these kids sometimes."

With the change in economics, more and more families see both parents going to work to provide support. Oben is high on the belief that he may be able to make a small difference and point those he mentors back to their family roots.

Beyond the camp, Oben is continuously visiting schools and offering his services. He understands that his quick tour and lecture provides an inspiration for young kids to see the importance of those who are molding them and influencing their paths.

"You use your celebrity, I use that term loosely, use your celebrity status as a vehicle to get through to these kids and try and give them an opportunity that you didn't have," Oben explains. "Every time I go to these schools, I always tell these kids that I never had a Pro athlete come to me when I was 12 years old and tell me about choices and decisions. It was always the teacher or the principle or the parents, the pastors. Those are the people that spend that extra time. When you are fifty years old, you are always going to remember your favorite teacher or your favorite coach. You are never going to remember that one big dude that came to your school. He autographed your napkin or something."

Mentoring isn't something he takes lightly. He is currently working with Big Brother/Big Sister of San Diego to become more involved and has his own foundation.

"It is an organization that produces positive programs to impact youths through sports, academics," Oben said of his foundation. "It is just an overall positive experience. I have done a lot of programs in Africa, Cameroon, computer programs, funding of schools, building of orphanages and then I do a Christmas program."

In 2003, Oben was honored as a Vince Lombardi Champion by the Vincent T. Lombardi Foundation for his work in Washington D.C. He has done many things to help the United Way, the Special Olympics and has programs dedicated to fighting literacy and hunger.

It is not abnormal to find athletes doing so much in the community. Many have had the same trials and tribulations growing up as today's society. That they take the time to meet with the future of this country is commendable and often overlooked.

When they do work so arduously in the community, the story needs to be told and Oben is deserving of such praise for his role in aiding those perhaps less fortunate.

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