Jarrett Payton shares ‘most important’ lessons with Elgin youths

ELGIN — Friends and family are what are most important in life, giving back is part of being a good person, and children should always believe they can do whatever they set their minds to do, Jarrett Payton said.

Payton, the son of the late National Football League and Chicago Bears great Walter Payton, was at the Elgin Salvation Army on Wednesday to talk to children there about teamwork, but also talked with them about what should be important in their lives.

Hannah Reynolds works with the children’s Spark Academy program at the Elgin Salvation Army, and asked Connie Payton — whom she knows “a little bit” — if her son would be interested in speaking to the Elgin group.

Each Wednesday, the Salvation Army holds the Spark program for Elgin children ages 3 through 18. The night includes singing and devotions, as well as musical classes and homework help time, Reynolds said.

The program is just a year old, brought to Elgin when Salvation Army Captains Fred and Nancy Mead came in as the new leadership at the Elgin location.

Payton walked into thunderous applause from the 100 children assembled on Wednesday — applause that he videotaped on a cellphone and promised to upload to his Facebook page.

The 30-year-old, a former NFL player himself, told the children about his connections to Elgin. For kindergarten through second grade, he attended Elgin Academy. When he was in his early teens, he also stepped in to help a friend with her dance recital and performed on stage at The Hemmens Cultural Center — a location where he saw many performances in his younger years.

Teaching giving
A recently published book on Walter Payton contains allegations of infidelity and abuse of painkillers. But his son told a different side of his father, including sharing a story about a family shopping trip right before Christmas.

His father took the 11-year-old Payton to Toys ‘R’ Us in Schaumburg after the store had closed. Walter Payton told his son that he could have any toys he wanted, and that he had to pick out toys for his sister, too. But instead of going home with those toys, the Paytons stopped at an apartment complex. All of those toys instead went to a family who was out of work and wouldn’t have had a Christmas if not for his father’s help.
“That taught me the value of giving back. You have to get to know the person next to you” and find out about his or her life, he said. “That was the first gift my dad gave to me … the first time I really understood giving.”

Family, friends and faith — and the place those things should have in their lives — is another lesson he learned from his father before his untimely death in 1999, when the younger Payton was just 19 years old and about to leave for college at the University of Miami, where he was a Hurricane for five years.

That experience — going to college across the country — is where he learned how to rely on friends when family wasn’t nearby. While many of his high school friends attended college at Notre Dame or Wisconsin and could drive home on the weekends, going home for him meant scheduling a flight back. So he ended up spending time with his classmates and fellow players. They were the people he relied on through that tough time in his life, he said.

“Life is hard, but you have to make your life simple,” Payton said. “The biggest thing, for me, is family and friends.”

He also learned the value of hard work. When he was a junior in high school, the younger Payton was disappointed when his name was not included in the Chicago Sun-Times list of the best high school football players in the region. That made him work hard every day to ensure his name would be on the list the following year. It was that determination, followed with good grades, that got him into Miami, Payton said.

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