Pro ball's Mike Carter leads Open Heart
Talk about a diversified career. Michael Carter, the newly-hired executive director of Open Heart Kitchen, might take top honors. It's a long way from being a star receiver with the Green Bay Packers in 1970 to serving hot meals to 3,500 of the Tri-Valley's needy every month, but Carter relishes the opportunity. Helping others has been his work for the last 22 years, including running the organization he founded, Pros for Youth, Inc., for much of that time. He left that group and took time off in 2006, then posted his resume on the Internet last fall, where it was spotted by Nancy Richardson, Open Heart's board president, who had just received notice from executive director Carol Beddome that she was leaving to become developmental director for Axis Community Health in Pleasanton.
Working out of a temporary, borrowed office in the Stoneridge Shopping Center, Carter has been assessing his new organization's pressing needs to serve an ever-growing number of individuals and families who find Open Heart's serving lines one of the few places they can count on having a hot meal. Among his immediate needs are a new printer to replace a 13-year-old machine that currently supports the whole organization and a worn out 1993 Suburban staff and volunteers with Open Heart use to pick up donated food from grocery markets in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore.
Carter seems well equipped for the challenges he faces in providing meals to the hungry, budgeting carefully to make sure costs stay within budget and, perhaps most important, serving as Open Heart's ambassador to the public and also to retailers who contribute food and other essentials to keep the group's pantry adequately stocked. Physically drained after five years of pro ball--first with the Packers and then with the San Diego Chargers--Carter joined "Corporate America," as he calls it, managing security for 37 high rise buildings in San Francisco for nine years for the American Building Maintenance Industry, a Fortune 500 company. But his years of playing football, including four years at Sacramento State University, where he earned a business degree, engrained him with a team concept to getting things done. Although the pay was good, he found his administrative job at American Building was an individual sport, quite different from being part of a team.
Yearning for something different, he started working with kids enrolled in the Fresno Unified School District's new program to mentor kids who needed help in learning basic life skills and ways to improve their academic interests and achievements. That led him to open his own Pros for Youth charity in Walnut Creek, sparing him a tough daily commute and also letting him bring in retired athletes to work with youths. There are more than 700 retired National Football League athletes who live in the Bay Area, and many offered to help Carter. Each took 20 students a year and worked with them at least once a week in improving their interests and ambitions. Carter said that youths who had 2.0 grade point averages and lower finished the program with much higher grades, with 87 percent of those enrolled graduating from high school.
Carter also served as president of the West Coast chapter of the NFL's retired alumni association as well as president of the NFL players' union for Northern California. About 15,000 retired NFL players are active members of these organizations, making for a network of athletes who, like Carter, have a passion for community service and youth development. With the average NFL player's active career averaging only 2-1/2 years, usually because of injuries, organizations such as Pros for Youth and Open Heart Kitchen have an ongoing resource of talent ready to help. Just before joining Open Heart, Carter contributed his time to a national youth program called "I have a dream." Now he's channeling his talents and that dream into helping the Tri-Valley by leading the efforts at Open Heart Kitchen.