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Harris making a big impact, one connection at a time

It’s become part of Andrew Harris’ routine now as a regular item on his daily to-do list.

Every day the Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back sets aside time to reach out to someone, either by phone, via text, Skype or a Zoom call. For example, moments before he answered this call he was speaking to Jake Thomas, his teammate of the last four seasons.

It’s all part of an initiative he started last month called the ‘Check-in Challenge’ and the idea – an ideal, really – is quickly growing into something much, much bigger in front of his eyes.

“With us being in Code Red now and the lockdown we had before this started, I saw some of the struggles people were having,” said Harris. “I had two or three people who were going through some serious things in their lives at the time – still are – whether it be missing work or going through depression. That’s what sparked the idea.

“I’m blessed to have my wife and daughter here at the house with me, but there are a lot of people on their own. There are people who are close to me who have been on their own and pretty much in isolation from the world.”

“So this was an idea to help people stay engaged, not just in texts, but by just seeing someone’s face or hearing their voice. Then it’s about diving in to find out how they are doing.”

Harris has discovered two critical aspects through his Check-in Challenge: First, the global pandemic is affecting so many people in so many different ways. And while reaching out might not solve the health or financial issues people are trying to manage, helping be part of a support system can be important.

“It’s crazy when you think about how tough this year has been,” he said. “Sometimes you can get self-absorbed and it’s ‘Oh, poor me. I could be playing football or I could be doing this or doing that.’ You can forget about the people around you sometimes.”

“I think it’s really important that we still look out for our friends, families and loved ones. With COVID, it’s forced people to focus on themselves a lot, but there’s always someone out there who is going through something worse or is having a hard time. I understand everyone is going through a tough time right now, but there’s probably someone in your inner circle who you are used to seeing on a regular basis who is going through something just as bad or a lot worse.”

Secondly, reaching out can be therapeutic for the person making the call, too. It’s all part of re-establishing the social interactions we’ve taken for granted. That’s something that hasn’t been lost on Harris, especially when the Canadian Football League season was officially cancelled back in August.

“It’s funny, every year there are times when I get tired of the Groundhog Day element of going to the stadium,” Harris said. “You’ve got your meetings, you’ve got practice, you’ve got more meetings. You’re sitting beside the same guys every day, guys are talking about the same old stuff… you can almost get sick of the locker room.

“But for me, that’s one of the things I miss the most right now – just being in the locker room. It’s all the nonsense, all the fun and the daily grind of being around the guys.

“It’s funny what you take for granted when it’s taken away. I miss that camaraderie. It’s definitely put things in perspective for me, those things I have taken for granted. It’s things as simple as meeting a buddy at a bar for a drink or grabbing some wings… they’re little things, but now they seem so precious. It’s the social interactions with each other.”

This week, Harris launched another new initiative called ‘No Barriers’ in which he will partner with school boards to find 11 kids in three different grades who are all-stars in music, art or sports but may be facing some barriers in pursuing their goals, either financial or otherwise. The goal is to then provide support for those kids – 33 in total – through their middle-school years and then continue to follow them in high school.

Harris has partnered with Zueike Apparel to design a graphic that is already on T-shirts and will soon be available on posters and other merchandise. The shirts are available at zueike.com, with $10 from each sale going to Kids Help Phone.

“Those middle years – Grades 5-6-7-8 – are crucial for a lot of kids in building confidence,” he said. “We’ll start with 33 kids in 2021 and then hopefully we can grow it further. There are a couple big charities willing to help support this until we can get charitable status. This is the launching pad of ‘No Barriers’ and helping supporting them in whatever skill they have.

“Everything will merge together eventually, but right now we’re working on them individually and hopefully helping build awareness.”

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