By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Arik Armstead wants every youngster to believe they can achieve their goals despite living in a challenging environment. 

Putting that desire into action, the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive end recently presented a $250,000 contribution to Mercy Housing California to support an after-school program for local middle and high school students.

 “The disparities between education and where you live I felt wasn’t fair. I just wanted to step in and try to aid in that fight in bringing equity,” Armstead told The OBSERVER. “I also wanted to reassure (the youth) that no matter where you are from, you’ll have a quality education to have opportunities to be successful later on in life.”

 Launched as the Armstead Academy, the program will provide academic coaching, tutoring, and leadership training. It will also conduct trips to college campuses and enrichment activities.

 Initially, the Land Park Woods community room will be the home of the academy. However, it is not limited to residents of Land Park Woods.  The youth that reside in nearby Marina Vista and Alder Grove public housing communities are encouraged to participate.

“It is so important that we level the playing field for our kids who come from historically disadvantaged communities,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who attended the event. “Partners like Arik and Mercy Housing are doing fantastic work to create opportunities for our youth, build their resilience, and provide a helping hand where it is needed most.”

 Chris Howell, a parent who lives in nearby Land Park Woods, was also present to witness the launching of the program. He has a 10-year-old and 6-year-old child, neither of whom cannot participate in the program, but the idea of having it in the neighborhood is an inspiration.

“I think Arik’s program will keep the youth busy and out of trouble,” Howell said. “They are bringing tutors from Sacramento State (University) that actually want to help kids. (Armstead) is also showing kids that they can make it out the ’hood and better themselves whether it’s in the NFL or being a businessman.”

Howell did not sugarcoat the environment in which the youth dwells. He said that there are challenges, bad elements, and boredom young people face every day. In his words, “the youth around here do need guidance.”

“Don’t get me wrong, some of the parents do discipline their kids,” Howell told the OBSERVER. “But some of these junior high kids could use some (positive) direction — a mindset change.”

The 49ers picked Armstead, who played for Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove and the University of Oregon, with the 17th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Off the field, he has been an active philanthropist. In 2020, his Armstead Academic Project raised more than $200,000 to reinvest into his community.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, in an effort to ensure children in the Sacramento community had the resources to continue their education virtually, Armstead donated $50,000 and personally delivered 350 Chromebooks to disadvantaged kids in Sacramento and San Francisco. 

He also provided one year of pre-paid internet service and education kits to multi-student families through Sacramento’s Mercy Housing.

Mercy Housing is a national nonprofit organization that works to build healthy communities. It is one of the nation’s largest affordable housing organizations and nonprofit housing developers, providing service-enriched homes to more than 20,000 residents throughout the state.

“Working with the Armstead Academic Project is energizing because Arik and team both recognize the potential that lies within young people and understand the keys to unlocking it,” said Doug Shoemaker, President of Mercy Housing California.

The Armstead Academy and Mercy Housing California currently have a five-year partnership. Armstead has engaged Mercy Housing youth in free football camps and health clinics, sponsored field trips to the Imaginarium and Levi’s Stadium, where the 49ers play home games. “This isn’t done. This program will continue to grow and one thing I am looking for are additional partners, people, other organizations that offer educational tools,” Armstead said. “Whether it’s software, college tools, or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. I want something that will offer opportunities for the youth.”

For questions about the Armstead Academy, contact Kayla Valle at or call (916) 699-2462.