01/21/2015, By Krista Hinz
The Phoenix Business Journal | Brandon Brown
UPDATED: Jan 22, 2015, 7:23am MST
NFL players are in town for the Pro Bowl, and on Wednesday they were out doing service projects around the Valley.
More than 20 players from the National Football League teamed up with a number of United Way, National Guard and USAA volunteers to build a community fitness trail at the Arizona National Guard Armory this week. The trail will be available to Arizona National Guardsmen, but also to the community, said Brigadier General Edward Maxwell.
For the last six years, the NFL has partnered with the United Way in a variety of local service projects during the week of the Pro Bowl. This is the first year since 2009 the Pro Bowl and related service projects are not in Hawaii.
Four Arizona Cardinals players – Antonio Cromartie, Justin Bethel, Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson – helped install fitness equipment Wednesday.
Valley of the Sun United Way President and CEO Merl Waschler said service projects with high-profile individuals, like Pro Bowl players, raise the awareness of the philanthropic needs of United Way.
"It has huge benefits," he said. "People start thinking about things differently."
Waschler said the Valley of the Sun United Way has created partnerships with the Arizona Cardinals and insurance and financial firm USAA that help further the nonprofit's mission. He said the Valley of the Sun United Way received more than $1 million from USAA employees in 2014.
Waschler also said he has worked closely with Cardinals President Michael Bidwell on partnerships between the two organizations. He said that showing off that large organizations can work together will help attract new business to the region.
"Michael is really leading the branding of Arizona," Waschler said, "showing that Arizona is open for business."
Building the fitness trail took months of coordination between the National Guard, USAA, United Way and the NFL, Waschler said.
Other NFL players were at Luke Air Force Base on Wednesday, and others worked with kids at Luke Elementary in Glendale and at Browne High School in Mesa.