By Tom Dart

Houston’s four major sports franchises – the Texans, Rockets, Astros and Dynamo – each have extensive outreach programs that donate time, money and stardust to a diverse range of worthwhile causes.

Stephanie Belton worked in the Texans communications department for six years and is now a consultant helping football players such as Andre Johnson, Texans wide receiver, manage their foundations.

“Athletes have the opportunity to connect [with the public] in a major way,” she said. “Houston’s probably one of the most generous markets in the NFL. They love their sports, and they love to give back.”

Belton advises her clients that they need to have a genuine passion for the causes they support. “I tell the athletes that I work with: ‘Your name is on this, this is your legacy and your reputation in the community,'” she said. “It has to be something that’s personal; otherwise it doesn’t work because it’s not sincere.”

Belton was worried that the Texans’ dismal form last season would dampen enthusiasm among the fans and make fundraising harder. But she was encouraged by the turnout when Jackson and teammate Johnathan Joseph hosted a Tailgating for a Cure evening to help lung-disease awareness and breast-cancer prevention the day after a heavy loss to the St. Louis Rams. Belton attributed the event’s success despite the team’s struggles to the deserving nature of the cause and the wholehearted backing it received from the players.

Johnson, 32, started his foundation in 2003. Its stated mission is to empower young people from single-parent homes by helping them become healthy, educated and responsible citizens who are active in the community. Johnson was raised in Miami by a single mother.

READ: ANDRE JOHNSON SUPPORTS WOMEN’S CENTER IN GOLF CLASSIC

Belton estimated that he has committed more than $500,000 to charitable causes through his foundation, almost all of it his own money. Johnson’s signature event is arguably his annual Toys R Us shopping spree, in which a dozen underprivileged young people get 80 seconds to dash through the store and grab as many items as possible.

Johnson hopes that a golf day will become an annual showpiece that continues after he has retired and his profile likely dips. Sports careers can be brief, volatile and curtailed at any moment by serious injury or a string of poor results, making it logical for athletes to start their charitable efforts soon after their rise to prominence, no matter if they are young and busy.

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