Marvin Lewis brought a passionate goal to Cincinnati when he accepted the head coach position for the Bengals in 2003. Lewis knew there was an opportunity to make a difference in the community, and, as the first African-American head coach for the team, he used his voice to start the Marvin Lewis Community Fund.

“I do not know that people realize how engaged he is with the fund,” says Barbara Dundee, executive director of the fund. “It is nice to know he is so passionate about education and helping kids.”

The fund offers several programs aimed at education for underprivileged kids, and two of the biggest ones are Learning Is Cool and the Scholarship Fund. Learning Is Cool is an educational program in 71 schools, mostly grades one through eight, serving almost 30,000 kids, says Dundee. The MLCF rewards the kids who make the A/B Honor Roll each quarter. If they make the honor roll twice in the year they get invited to a private event held at the Cincinnati Zoo.

“They can bring their families, and the children get to meet Coach Lewis and get a picture with him and get a family photo with one of the players who gives them a medal of achievement,” says Dundee. “It is really the highlight of the year for them.”

Last year, about 35 kids who participated in Learning Is Cool went to the Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Newport, Ky., with Jermaine Gresham for a holiday shopping spree. The program serves children in Cincinnati Public Schools, Covington Independent Public Schools, North College Hill and Middletown City Schools.

The Scholarship Fund is a yearly program awarding at least five high school graduating students $20,000 scholarships. There are usually more than five recipients, says Dundee, and if there is an extra student Lewis pays the scholarship himself. 

“[Lewis] chooses the finalists, and he and I interview them together,” says Dundee. “That is a real thrill for both of us. That is our favorite part of the year, I think.”

Hometown Huddle is a United Way and NFL initiative the fund participates in every year along with every NFL city. The initiative encourages volunteers to make a difference in the community. It typically involves putting in a playground, often a community garden, doing landscaping and putting in walking paths, says Dundee. This year the MLCF put in a playground at Taft Elementary School, a Cincinnati Public School. Also, the fund offers a free football camp administered by ProCamps Worldwide where about 300 boys and girls learn about the game and learn the value of education.

“It is something Marvin always wanted to do, and he is very passionate about helping underserved kids,” says Dundee. “They get three nights with [Lewis], some of the other coaches and players.”

“[Lewis] knows what is going on [in the community], so he is involved when he goes to the football camps,” says Dundee. “I think it is admirable what he has done for the kids in Cincinnati.”