It was in Miami that Ferrell met Felecia, a schoolteacher and former college track star.
Their three sons, Trey, Tremaine and Terrell, are all in the NFL. Terrell was drafted in the first round this year by the Steelers, Trey initially played for the Saints but recently joined the Steelers, and Tremaine was also drafted this year in the first round by the Bills.
Terrell and Tremaine Edmunds
Like other professional athletes, Ferrell became involved with charities while in the NFL. However, he and his wife wanted to do more than occasionally volunteer or provide financial support to nonprofit organizations. So when they moved to Virginia, they decided to help children whose parents were not able to care for them. They began working with Alliance Human Services, an agency that places foster children with families.
They started by taking in one boy 17 years ago, and since then, they have fostered almost two dozen children. They currently have three living in their home, one of whom has been a member of their family for the past 10 years.
How they do it
Ferrell says they are fortunate to have a large home, so they have had plenty of “dormitory style” space for their foster children as well as their biological sons. He also says that Cookie is “extremely organized.” A lifelong teacher, she spends a lot of time helping them with reading and other schoolwork. “She is like a drill sergeant,” he chuckled. They both realize “these kids have been through a lot, and they are going to run into problems,” so they put plans in place for each child. They also have tapped into the resources available for these kids and work closely with schools and agencies. “It takes a community, and we are just a small part of it,” he added.
Over the years, one of those resources has been Rivermont School-Dan River. Former principal Terry Templeton recalled the first time she met Ferrell when he enrolled one of their foster children in first grade.
Rivermont School - Dan River (highlighted) is in Danville.
“This child and his siblings were removed from their mother’s custody after years of trauma and abuse, resulting in emotional dysfunction and brain injury,” she explained. “I was touched by the gentle nature and compassion that this big man showed this small child. It wasn’t long before the family took on some of this child’s siblings.
This new student was challenging,” continued Templeton. “He was angry, as one would expect. Mr. Edmunds stuck by him, often coming to the school several times a day for meetings and other concerns. As time passed, the student’s anger faded. He began to run after his foster dad to get a hug and kiss him goodbye saying, ‘I love you Dad!’ Mr. Edmunds always reciprocated. Soon this child began to show others love and compassion, often saying ‘I love you’ to the support staff. He also began to enjoy school, and his reading and writing skills flourished beyond expectation.
“Whenever Mr. Edmunds came to our school, he always had an encouraging word for our students, especially the high school boys. They would run up to shake his hand or give him a high five. On one occasion, he came to speak to our students advising them to stay away from negative influences,” Templeton added.
Ferrell and Felecia taught their own sons the same thing. They were strict with them, Ferrrell said. “An 11 pm curfew meant that at 11:05 it was too late; we took the keys.”
When it comes to their foster children, Ferrell stressed the importance of getting the right diagnosis. When a child is struggling, what is on paper may not be accurate.
“You have to observe their behaviors and then ask how we can make a change so they can have a better life. Our goal is to put things in place to help these kids get on the right path,” he said.
He added that his coaches “allowed me to be me, and that’s why I became successful.”
As the Dan River High School varsity football coach, Ferrell treats his players the same way. “My goal is to reach them where they are and use their knowledge to discover what can they bring to our team.”
He is adamant about not putting their foster kids on the school bus. With their busy evening schedules of homework and other activities, and his coaching responsibilities, he sees this daily ritual as his time to communicate with them. “Kids just want and need attention,” he said.
Why they do it
Our family finds the joy in giving, says Ferrell, further evidenced by the fact that Trey started an initiative called 50 Men in Suits, collecting gently worn suits from businessmen in NYC to give to local high school boys for college and job interviews. The entire family also continues to support the Alliance and other organizations that work with children.
“We constantly ask ourselves how we can help change other peoples’ lives in a positive fashion by giving them the opportunities that God has blessed us by giving them the opportunities that God has blessed us with,” Ferrell continued. “If we have a legacy to leave, we want to know that we have made an impact."