In January, 70 culinary arts students from Aberdeen, Lake Quinault, Montesano and North Beach high schools made a huge impression on a person who’s broadcast on millions of TVs every fall Sunday. On Wednesday, he was there to return the favor.
Tariq Woolen, the 2022 Seattle Seahawks’ fifth-round pick who tied the NFL with six interceptions in his first year on the way to placing third place in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting this past season, headed out to Five Star Dealerships in South Aberdeen.
His goal was to give 70 pairs of brand new Nike shoes to the students to thank them for the work they did during the 22nd Annual United Way of Grays Harbor Black & White Gala, which Woolen attended. The gala, founded by Rich Hartman’s Five Star Dealerships and Jodesha Broadcasting, was held on Jan. 21, at the Ocean Shores Convention Center. The gala event raised more than $214,000. Woolen’s appearance and generosity put smiles on the faces of everybody in the dealership.
Damon Gleason, who co-owns Five Star Dealerships with Allen Erickson and Rich Hartman, spoke briefly about how the idea for Wednesday’s event came together.
“Tariq was so thankful, and you made such a big deal to him,” Gleason told the students.
Gleason said Woolen wanted to talk to the students one more time. And he didn’t want to come empty handed.
“I want to get everybody a pair of shoes, and (I was like) ‘really?’” Gleason said. “(It) was really exciting for us and we’re like ‘Okay.’ So when he announced it … it caught us off-guard because it happened so fast. And I don’t know about you guys, but that was pretty, he didn’t need to do that at all. But that’s how big of a deal you guys made to him, seeing such a young age work so hard to help a community grow.”
Gleason, who counted the pairs of shoes on a desk near the front of the dealership, said each of the pairs of shoes was sized right. The students’ instructors were tasked with finding out their sizes.
One of the 70 smiling students was Caleb McGuire, a freshman at Aberdeen High School. Woolen is one of McGuire’s favorite Seahawks.
“I think it’s pretty cool that he’d do this for us,” said McGuire, who’s learning how to cook. “The gala was pretty cool. I wasn’t expecting him there.”
McGuire said he was really excited about receiving the Nike shoes. While he ate the Domino’s pizza that served as the students’ lunch, he wanted to thank Woolen.
“I’m really thankful for (the shoes) and I really appreciate it,” McGuire said.
Samantha Schweppe and Cadence Crawford, two Montesano High School sophomores, shared a bit about the gala, meeting Woolen, and receiving the Nikes.
“This was a super great opportunity for us,” Schweppe said. “We had a great time at the actual gala. I had a great time, these guys had a great time cooking all the food. We learned a lot of good lessons that we’ll take with us through life.”
Crawford, who was unavailable to serve at the gala, described what she learned.
“It definitely taught me a lot of lessons in how to work with a bunch of other people,” Crawford said. “It was a really good opportunity to meet other people from our community that otherwise I would never have met.”
Crawford was happy to meet Woolen and seemed impressed by how humble he was as he hung out with the students on Wednesday inside Five Star’s Chevrolet lobby.
“I think this is a very kind thing that Tariq has done, especially donating the shoes, which he definitely did not have to do,” Crawford said.
Kelley McDonald, executive director for United Way of Grays Harbor, described in detail the spectacular job the students did in getting the convention center ready for the gala. One of their tasks was folding about 500 napkins. Another one was removing the bones from the salmon.
“You just went above and beyond,” McDonald said to the students in front of their teachers, Erickson and Gleason, and most importantly, Woolen. “I saw each one of you shine.”
In addition to the shoes, and other items donated from the gala event were $5,000 checks addressed to each high school.
Barb Marshall, culinary teacher for Lake Quinault High School, was over the moon about being with the students for the event at the dealership.
“It’s phenomenal,” Marshall said. “It’s kind of like a reunion for all of us to see each other.”
It was clear Woolen enjoyed himself on Wednesday, too.
The Daily World got a chance to speak with Woolen, who was gracious with his time as he described his experience at the gala and the students’ hard work, who helped raise more than $214,000.
“It was pretty good at the gala,” Woolen said. “I came across a lot of people, a lot of new faces and made connections. Some of the connections I made was with the young ones — the kids that worked in the kitchen and they served us.”
Woolen said he remembered enjoying connecting with the students, especially since he himself, at 23, is only a few years out of high school.
“They were talking to me and they were having fun,” Woolen said. “It was pretty cool because it kind of loosened up the tension a little bit. I’m a totally younger guy and I was around a lot of older people at the gala, so it was pretty cool. It made me feel like a child a little bit. But, they showed respect, they showed love, and that’s how I made connections with them.”
According to McDonald, Woolen spent “well over two hours” after the gala to speak with the students and take photos with them. On Wednesday, Woolen did the same as he spoke with each student and took “selfies” with them, and he signed their shoes and shoe boxes.
While Aberdeen is a small town, “an hour-and-a-half away in the country,” that made no difference to Woolen — a Fort Worth, Texas native — and he was glad to come back to Grays Harbor.
“It was just a cool thing for me to come back and show that I’m a person that’s just like you,” Woolen said. “No matter the color, you know, we all have some of of the same struggles. You could be from Aberdeen, or you could be from Fort Worth, Texas, but we can all connect together. That was the main, key thing I wanted to show them and that’s the main reason why I came back and returned the favor.”
Erickson said the event couldn’t have happened without the students’ help.
“Without you guys, we couldn’t have raised over $200,000,” Erickson said. “So this is our way, with Tariq being here, this was like the ‘wow moment,’ that he donated the shoes and everything, so we’re just really happy that you guys are part of this and we’re a part of this. And we’re so grateful. So once again, thank you guys. It couldn’t have happened without you guys and hopefully you guys will come back and help us out again next year.”
Woolen is no stranger to the dedication it takes to hone a craft with his experience in being an NFL starter. His advice to the students was to “keep grinding, keep working.”
“Even if you’re in Aberdeen, even if you’re in a big city, you know, just keep working because hard work never goes unnoticed,” Woolen said. “A person from here, from Aberdeen, they can give hope to just like everybody else. Just like where I’m from, they see me making it, they see me making a name and it gives hope for the next generation, it gives hope for many more people.”