Editor's note: This story originally appeared on Time.com on Dec. 14, 2016.
After playing Division III football at Norwich University, in Northfield, Vt., and then at Mount Union, in Alliance, Ohio, receiver Pierre Garçon never expected to be drafted. Yet the sixth-round pick of the Colts in 2008 has made the most of his opportunity, becoming a top target for Washington’s Kirk Cousins this season after hauling in 72 receptions for 777 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.
Garçon has made an even bigger impact off the field with the work he has done in Haiti, his family’s homeland. The impoverished nation has been devastated over the past six years: first by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, then by Hurricane Matthew, which hit in October, causing more than 1,000 deaths. Garçon has traveled to Haiti to bring supplies, and he also started a foundation, Helping Hands, to bring education, health and community programs to the country. “I enjoy helping people,” he says. “That’s how I got to where I am.”
On his Haitian roots
I was born in Carmel, N.Y., but my family was all born in Haiti. We spoke Creole in the house. When I was really young, we moved to Greenacres, Fla., and lived among other Haitians, a lot of Americans and a lot of other immigrants. As kids we didn’t know who was Haitian and who wasn’t until we met their parents. We tried to adapt to American society and speak English, but I always knew we were Haitian.
On youth football
We came together around the game. When you are in South Florida, you can play basketball and soccer, but football is No. 1, hands down. We always played pickup football. After school, at recess, on the weekend, it was part of our daily activities. I was good at it. I was fast.
On going to college in Vermont
That was the first time I saw snow. I saw mountains—it was eye-opening. The ball was so hard, it hurt my fingers. It was a very tough adjustment. Luckily there were a couple of guys from Florida in their second year. They let me follow them and figure it out. At the end of the day you just try to catch what they throw to you.
On being drafted
I was at my sister’s house in West Palm Beach just waiting. I didn’t expect to get drafted, but I had done well at the combine. I was projected to go in the sixth round, so around the fourth or fifth round, I started really watching. I got a call from a 317 area code—it was Indy. That was the happiest you could ever be.
On returning to Haiti after Hurricane Matthew
It was an amazing trip. I was happy that [Washington owner] Daniel Snyder gave us his plane. We helped out at a hospital and provided much-needed things to speed up the recovery process. It was very impactful for me.
On Haitians in the NFL
It’s only a matter of time. In South Florida there are a lot of Haitians playing football. In the next few years there will be over 100 Haitian NFL players.