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Football season is when the Owen Warhorses and coach Nathan Padgett focus on improving as a team. With Christmas approaching, the team is working on something else entirely - supporting the community that supports them every fall.

And they’re doing it through the Johnny Raines Christmas Program at the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry. The program provides the perfect opportunity for the Warhorses to help a community member in need, Padgett said.

“I saw the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry was looking for people to sponsor families,” he said. “I thought this would be a great thing for our players.”

The needs in the community are vast, according to Connie Jenkins, a program “elf” who has been helping for eight years.

“Clients of the ministry with children 12 and under can come in and apply for Christmas assistance,” she said. “We find families to sponsor the families who apply.”

The program is named after the late Johnny Raines, a longtime veteran of the Black Mountain Police Department, where Padgett continues to serve as a reserve officer.

“I have to work there at least six hours every month in addition to all of my state-mandated training,” he said. “That’s my way of giving back to the community.”

The Johnny Raines Christmas Program has around 125 applicants this year, according to Jenkins, each family with varying numbers of children.

The Warhorses sponsored twin boys.

“This is a small piece of the puzzle,” Padgett said. “There are plenty of people in need right here in this community.”

Padgett gave his players the option of returning to the N.C. State Veterans Home, where they delivered gifts last year for Christmas, or the Johnny Raines Christmas Program. The players were excited to sponsor children in the community for the holidays, Padgett said. The team will return to the veteran’s home at some point in 2017, he said.

“Community service is important,” he said. “I want our players to realize how important it is to be a positive presence in the Valley.”

Junior Sidney Gibbs was one of two players who quickly asked if they could go with him when the coach delivers the gifts before Christmas.

“I plan on giving as much as I can,” Gibbs said. “The community has supported us at every game for I don’t even know how long. I want go give back to that as much as I can.”

Sophomore quarterback Kendrick Weaver will also go with Padgett to drop off presents to the family.

“When I saw the list the family gave us I decided I wanted to go get things on it I would want the most,” Weaver said. “I think I’m going to get them shoes.”

The generosity of Gibbs, Weaver and their teammates is a theme throughout the Valley, according to Jenkins, who finds herself in awe of how willing the community is to help one another.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “I’ve never seen a community like this. Everybody lifts everybody up.”

It was Jenkins who paired the Warhorses with the family they’re sponsoring.

“I’m glad the coach wanted to get them involved,” she said. “It’s a great lesson for them. It’s a great thing they’re doing, and I know the players are excited about it.”

Participating in the program gives the players a first-hand look into some of the needs that exist in their own back yard, according to Padgett.

“I really feel very strongly about us doing this,” he said. “For a child in our community, in our valley, to not have a Christmas is something that really bothers me.”

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