A nonprofit organization started by a Super Bowl-winning former NFL player is expanding its reach and establishing a community center in Varina.
Excel to Excellence, which was founded by ex-NFL fullback Michael Robinson, will open the center at the former site of the Varina Library. The organization plans to publicly launch a campaign to raise $5 million later this year and open the facility in fall 2018.
The community center will feature programs that revolve around innovation, entrepreneurship and the arts, as well as provide a space for an existing program that is run in Henrico County schools.
Robinson, who graduated from Varina High School in 2001, also envisions the center as a place for youth to openly discuss sensitive issues.
“When do you ever get a quiet place or safe place to talk about race? Talk about social inequality, to talk about bullying?” Robinson asked. “A lot of these kids don’t have a person at home to talk these issues out with or even a place to go.”
The site, located at the recently renamed Michael Robinson Way and South Laburnum Avenue, was made available after the county opened the new Varina Area Library off state Route 5.
It will house offerings for leadership development for middle and high school students as well as community leaders such as youth sports coaches and PTA presidents, said Johnathan Mayo, executive director of Excel to Excellence.
The organization currently runs Team Excel out of three Henrico schools — John Rolfe Middle School, L. Douglas Wilder Middle School and Varina High School. The program follows a “reverse fantasy football” model in which students are grouped in teams and compete based on grade point average, attendance and community service.
The annual Michael Robinson Youth Football Camp and Community Day, in which boys and girls ages 8 to 16 are coached by professional athletes and coaches in the area, has also operated for several years.
The Henrico Board of Supervisors voted in May to give the site to the organization, provided that Excel complies with a number of conditions, including investing at least $700,000 in building improvements and maintaining and operating the building for at least 20 years.
A permit for an athletic and academic club at the site was approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Tyrone Nelson, the supervisor representing the Varina District, described the benefits as twofold: The building will not sit empty, and the community center, near John Rolfe Middle School and Varina High School, will be able to serve those students.
“It’s a win-win,” Nelson said.
Robinson, who won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, views the center as a way to give back to the area where he was raised.
“Without the adversity I came about growing up, without the people in my life that helped me get through those adversities, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “I owe it to the community.”