When Cliff Avril traveled to Haiti with his wife in the spring of 2016 for the Cliff Avril Family Foundation, he visited an orphanage and discovered that something we take for granted in the U.S. was scarce: clean water. The people at the orphanage showed Avril that their reservoir had almost no water remaining. He explained that his foundation “knew [that they] wanted to give [the orphanage] water, but they were literally on their last inch. It was very humbling.”
Avril is a 6’ 3”, 260-pound defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks. Last season he was the Seahawks’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his work supporting the people of Haiti through his foundation, which also works on improving awareness for juvenile diabetes.
While visiting the orphanage, Avril’s foundation ended up donating a year’s supply of water. Having a pump system for the orphanage would be incredibly beneficial, but Avril explained that “certain parts of the island can’t [pump water] because underneath them is saltwater. [The orphanage] moved after the earthquake [in 2010] to where they can’t pump water out.” The foundation is still looking at other means of obtaining water for the approximately 50 children who live there.
Avril’s parents are from Haiti and emigrated to the U.S. before he was born. As a kid, he visited there each year until he was 15. Then life got in the way, and he did not go back until after his father passed away in 2015.
One of his primary goals in Haiti is to improve the infrastructure. Days after Hurricane Matthew came though Haiti in October 2016, Avril pledged to build one home in Haiti for every sack he recorded during the season. The work is done by a partnership between his foundation and Mission of Hope. Avril had 11.5 sacks last season; 12 houses are now complete.
Before this season, Avril explained that multiple organizations do the same thing, but what sets Mission of Hope apart is that they “use all Haitian material [and] workers [to help] stimulate the economy.” This has personal significance because it allows him to provide jobs among other things that can help keep people out of poverty. Houses take about six weeks to build and are hurricane- and earthquake-proof. Finally, the people who move into these homes own them.
Avril is also funding the construction of a school. It started out as one classroom (also hurricane- and earthquake-proof), and it turned into two rooms. It has since snowballed into seven, one for each grade. The fact that the rooms are natural-disaster-proof was important to Avril because it means that “the community can use it for shelter if they were ever to need it.” (Haiti has been in the path of many hurricanes over the years.) He went on to explain that the rooms are constructed the same way as the houses but take a little longer to build. When it’s finished, there will be three buildings with a combined eight classrooms.
Avril has a lot of support from teammates and fellow NFL players. It was former teammate and current Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch who originally put Avril in contact with Free the Children, now called We, when he originally wanted to build a classroom. The agency was in the process of building a school, and Avril was going to be a donor for one of the rooms. But he decided to fund the whole thing himself because he wanted to make an even greater impact.
Lynch has gone to Haiti with Avril multiple times and went on his behalf last October. He also went with Avril’s mom in October 2016 for the opening of the first school building. Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett has traveled with Avril as well and has been supportive of his foundation’s efforts.
When asked why Lynch and Bennett have done so much to support his causes, Avril stated that it was about their friendship that runs even deeper than being teammates. “It’s all guys who have one goal outside of playing football….It’s about trying to make a difference in the world. Trying to leave an impact and a legacy out there. Yes, you’re in a great position, but if you’re not helping others, you’re not really doing anything.”
Avril said that he wants to do the sack pledge again and complete the third and final school building. He also said that he wants to bring 100 kids either from the school or orphanage to a Seahawks game this year.
Throughout the entire interview, he clearly reiterated that it’s all about giving back, using his platform to make a difference, and fulfilling his obligation to give back. He explained that, “No matter what your circumstances are, it’s always good to give back (…),” Avril said. “You should always do it from your heart. You shouldn’t do it for any other reason than want. Giving back is how you make the world a better place.”
Photographs by (from top): Wesley Hitt/Getty Images; Frederick Breedon/Getty Images