For Te’Von Coney, giving back to others has been a way of life since he was a child. Growing up, his father, Tim, owned a nonprofit called Kids of Tomorrow, which distributed toys to children whose parents couldn’t afford them. “I volunteered for my dad as a young boy, handing out toys to kids at school,” says Coney, 23, who was raised in Palm Beach Gardens and now lives in North Palm Beach. “Giving is in my blood.”
After graduating from high school, Coney attended the University of Notre Dame, where he was a star linebacker and studied philosophy and business economics. In 2019, his football dreams came true when he made it onto the Oakland Raiders’ roster as an undrafted free agent. Sadly, he was released from the team just four months later.
It was a blow in more ways than one. Losing the Raiders slot also meant he no longer had the hefty NFL income to support his other dream: to start his own nonprofit. He’d had this idea to launch a foundation called Tough Choices to educate, inspire, and mentor young people in local communities. “I wanted to give back the way my dad taught me growing up,” he says. “I wanted to use my life experiences and mistakes to help others avoid making them and go in the right direction early on.”
Despite the setback, he was determined to find success, both on and off the field. “From August through early December 2019, I worked very hard to improve my game,” says Coney. “And I was redrafted by the Raiders on December 11.” A month later, he was finally able to launch Tough Choices. The foundation’s mission is to help kids lead better and more productive lives, to shoot for their dreams and stay away from drugs and gangs. It’s an outreach program where Coney speaks to kids, answering their questions and motivating them with his own life story. He also sells apparel online to help the foundation prosper. “[These kids] have big dreams and want to know how to fulfill them,” says Coney. “I love to offer help and guidance.”
When football season ended, he spent the off-season in Palm Beach County, working out to improve his linebacker skills—and helping others. That February, he began a partnership with the United Way of Palm Beach County to “learn how to run a nonprofit and also engage with people to keep up with everything I needed to know,” Coney says. He traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit the United Way Worldwide. He attended a pizza party at Florida Atlantic University and spoke to students about college experiences. He traveled to churches in the county to distribute food and clothing to the homeless. He visited elementary schools to hand out cereal and canned goods. And he went into classrooms to conduct student surveys so he could learn what they hoped to achieve in life. “I want them to be the best they can,” he says. “They need to find out what they are good at and go for it.”
Unfortunately, the [now Las Vegas] Raiders released Coney again last May. But he’s still optimistic about football. He continues to train and also loves to swim, go bowling, hit the beach, and hang out with his family and friends. He is focused on being a well-rounded person so he can do the most good for himself and for others. Says Coney: “I continue to dream big, and it’s my goal to make everyone’s dreams come true.”