There are a few things you need to know about Houston Texans tight end Garrett Graham. For starters, he wears No. 88.
He also has a somewhat shy and quiet demeanor, yet he remains very involved in almost any conversation and has a bit of a goofball tendency — which matches perfectly with his beautiful blonde bombshell wife Ericka. The two met at Wisconsin and complement each other in a way reality TV show producers dream of.
As most wifely roles go, Ericka could easily be considered Wonder Woman. She supports the efforts of her talented husband on the field, but more importantly she is dedicated to making sure the two of them make a difference in their new hometown (Houston of course), which is how this football couple's Project 88 Foundation came about.
The mission of Project 88 is to provide underserved students with leadership development and educational opportunities. It sounds simple enough, but as the Grahams are learning, there are thousands of moving parts to get a charity project like this rolling.
“Ericka has always wanted to start a charity. I just re-signed last year to be in Houston for another three years, and I wanted to do something more to show our appreciation."
With school budget cuts happening all over the country, one of the first places to cut has been college counselors and advisors. According to a 2014 report, the stateside average for Texas exceeds 400 students per counselor, and in Houston, the average is nearly 700 students per counselor. Clearly there will be many kids who never even get the chance to talk about the real possibilities of college, much less receive guidance on the steps necessary to apply and finance those sky-high tuition costs.
The Grahams have been working tirelessly (Garrett fully admits it’s his wife who is the one truly working tirelessly, sometimes waking him up at 3 a.m. to discuss a new idea) to brainstorm and work out the details of how to help kids, specifically in HISD, with college goals and admission processes. It wasn’t long ago the Grahams themselves were learning all the how’s and what’s and when’s of applying to college, but as a college athletes-to-be with very helpful families their experience was quite different.
“After teaching English and College Readiness at a low-income college preparatory school last year, I became passionate about helping students plan for their future," Ericka says. "However while teaching, I also realized how complicated and difficult the college admissions and application process was — especially for families that don't have a college-going history.
"Many families do not have the financial means to make it happen as well."
The Education Fight
Ericka says the goal from day one was to make a “measurable difference,” and that the process of defining Project 88 has been evolving each and every day. In fact, it's still evolving.
“Ericka has always wanted to start a charity,” Garrett says. “I just re-signed last year to be in Houston for another three years, and I wanted to do something more to show our appreciation to the city and the fans.
"(The foundation] just seemed like a good way to reach out. We’ve made this our home. Houston has been great to us so why not give back?"
As of just a few days ago, Project 88 officially teamed up with Advise TX and HISD, to help students get access to information about college, financial aid and student services.
The stateside average for Texas exceeds 400 students per counselor, and in Houston, the average is nearly 700 students per counselor.
“At Project 88 Foundation, we are aware that many Houston-area students lack access to information about going to college, and that many students in Houston have never considered college as a possibility!" Ericka says. "Still we believe that all students are capable of productive and successful futures, if given access to the right information and opportunities.
"The funds we raise at Project 88 will go towards supplying HISD schools with full-time college advisors that live and work right here in Houston."
The couple has sought help from friends like Laurie and Matt Schaub, who successfully created GR8 Hope Foundation, and Hannah McNair, the wife of Texans chief operating officer Cal McNair, a Houston philanthropist with a big network and an even bigger heart. “The McNairs have been 50 percent of this equation starting it up,” Ericka says.
A common misconception about professional athletes is that once they reach a certain point in their career, they are required to start a non-profit. Sure they are encouraged to do so and many of them have the means to give back, but what it generally boils down to is something inside of them wanting to give back.
And of course a wife like Ericka Graham who has made it her mission.