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Jonathan Jones helps children operate robotic vehicles

Jonathan Jones has long had a passion for robotics and engineering, and he helped raise money for a Tiger Giving Day project spearheaded by the Southeastern Center for Robotics Education (SCORE). (Photo courtesy of the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation)

Jonathan Jones approaches each day with a purpose the same way he attacks an opponent’s pass in the National Football League.

The 2015 Auburn University graduate and two-time Super Bowl champion cornerback with the New England Patriots works diligently to improve access and opportunities for marginalized children who are often forgotten. Through his Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation, the Carrolton, Georgia, native works with organizations in multiple states to give hundreds of young people a chance to succeed in a variety of fields.

From Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and food insecurity initiatives to life skills application and professional development, Jones and his foundation work to empower the next generation through education and mentorship opportunities.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot in my life, from talent to just being in the position I’m in now and the platform and outreach I have,” said Jones, a four-year starter in Auburn’s secondary from 2012-15. “I just want to see other youth come up and excel, and I think my end goal is always just for that to be full circle for the more kids that I can get to come back and say, ‘Hey, you were part of my journey, you did this STEM camp for me or you put on this football camp,’ or whatever the endeavor may be. Just to say that an event I put on helped them on their journey is the goal.”

Recently, Jones partnered with the College of Sciences and Mathematics’ Southeastern Center for Robotics Education (SCORE) on a Tiger Giving Day project to raise funds to purchase robotics equipment and provide professional development to schools that otherwise wouldn’t have the means. That partnership materialized after SCORE representatives attended a Lower Mills STEM Week 2023 event outside Boston in which Jones was involved. The Tiger Giving Day project raised more than $15,000, inspiring Jones to send a message to donors.

“It means a lot to us, not only to me, but to the kids and to the lives that you’re impacting through STEM,” Jones said in a video. “You’re not only giving robotics equipment, but you’re also giving opportunity to see a pathway that most didn’t see possible.”

Jonathan Jones helps bag food at a food drive event

Another chief aim of the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation is supporting charities and organizations such as the Food Bank of East Alabama and the Auburn Sustenance Project. (Photo courtesy of the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation)

Investing in Auburn

Jones’ foundation operates in the three communities that mean the most to him.

“When I started the foundation, the three pillars of the foundation were the places that were part of my life, and that was Carrollton, my hometown, Auburn and Boston,” said Jones, who still visits Auburn as often as possible. “Along my journey, I spent my childhood in Carrollton, my early adulthood in Auburn and the last eight years in Boston. So, those were the places and the pillars that helped me, and I want to just give back to those places because they meant so much to my journey.”

Jones has given support through his foundation to several efforts, including many with ties to the Plains. His foundation was honored by the Auburn Chamber of Commerce with its Eagle Award earlier this year for his involvement in the community, and Jones supports the Food Bank of East Alabama and the College of Human Sciences’ Auburn Sustenance Project.

Jones intentionally set out to align with a diverse and balanced portfolio of worthy organizations through his foundation.

“I didn’t just want it to be about athletics, I didn’t just want it to be about education,” Jones said of the foundation. “I feel like help can be needed in so many ways. So, if I can help a kid take their next step with the sustenance program and they say, ‘I don’t have food while we’re out on [summer] break, and that’s my barrier to getting better,’ and ‘I can’t focus on my schoolwork if I can’t eat,’ I’m helping you take your next step in that phase.

“Or if it’s, ‘Hey, I kind of have this desire to get more into STEM,’ and I can say, ‘Well, I put on this event,’ and ‘I’ve connected with this group,’ we can just help kids generally take their next step, whatever that may be.”

Jonathan Jones smiles while speaking to children at an event.

Jonathan Jones enjoys working with youth and expanding opportunities and access to STEM-based learning. (Photo courtesy of the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation)

Strong values from the start

Jones’ sense of duty and philanthropic mentality come from values instilled in him by his mother, Sharon, and father, Stacey.

“Athletics and education were just my background, and I always say I had the perfect yin and yang between my parents,” said Jones, who volunteered at soup kitchens and youth track camps while in high school. “My dad loves sports and is very disciplined, and my mom could care less [about sports]; it’s all about education, and that’s all that mattered to her. I couldn’t go to practice if I didn’t have the right grades. So, the things that were instilled in me growing up just carried over.”

STEM grew into a passion of Jones’ in his teen years.

“I was in an engineering program through high school, and I just loved it,” he said. “We worked with Southwire Engineering, a company that’s out of my hometown. I’ve always loved to see how things work and motors, with my dad being a mechanic, and just being around things like that growing up.

“I got to college and wasn’t able to do engineering with the schedule and the workload with that and football. So, I fell back to business, but engineering was just always something that thrived within me.”

When he started the foundation in 2019, Jones did so with an eye on forging partnerships with organizations that could help young people enjoy STEM-related projects that could spark a passion for learning within them.

Jonathan Jones cheers on a child running with a football in a gym.

Each summer, Jonathan Jones hosts a football camp for children at his hometown in Carrollton, Georgia. (Photo courtesy of the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation)

“A few years back, the first partnership that I did was with [Unruly] Splats, and they do mechanisms that kids are able to use to bring play indoors and connect it in with coding,” Jones said. “That was up my alley, and it was to two things that I love — being outside playing and coding and the interface of that.

“I always say technology is the future, and it’s important to give kids an opportunity to get involved in that early and to be a part of the future of technology and see what that has to offer. Engineering is a big word, but when you break it down at a smaller level, it’s what you do when you play with Legos as a kindergartener.”

Jones was a gifted athlete who took notice when members of the Carrollton community went the extra mile to provide opportunities for children in his area.

“There was a guy in my hometown who donated a lot of money for us to be able to go and participate in a lot of sports,” said Jones, who conducts a football camp at Carrollton High School each summer. “That was kind of my opening to the world to get outside of my hometown and go travel, play football, run track and do sports. I always wanted to give back and make that come full circle and be a part of somebody else’s journey and help them fulfill their dreams.”

Fueling his fire

Jones did not hear his name called in the 2016 NFL Draft, signing with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent. He worked hard to not only make the team, but emerge as a starter who now has two championship rings in a nearly decade-long career.

That feeling of being initially overlooked, however, helped ignite Jones’ desire to use his platform to help others who may feel forgotten.

A group of people

Jonathan Jones helped host a Girls Flag Field Day with the Play Like a Girl organization, an event that featured a panelist, flag drills and STEM activity. (Photo courtesy of the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation)

“I always considered myself the left-out guy, the guy nobody saw or [in a situation where] it wasn’t supposed to be me,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there who feel like that who may say, ‘Ah, STEM’s not supposed to be for me,’ whether it’s females or people who come from underprivileged places, who may feel like, ‘Ah, that’s not supposed to be me.’ So, I’m using my story as an example to say, ‘Hey, all you need is an opportunity, and once you get that opportunity, make the most of it.’”

Jones calls himself a “forever learner,” and last summer he added the title of licensed pilot to his resume after developing a new passion for aviation.

“It’s easy for young kids to grow up saying, ‘Hey, I want to be an NFL football player,’” he said. “That’s the glitz and the glamour, but even now, I just picked up aviation and got my pilot’s license. That’s just because those things still drive me and just [a love for] learning.

“My friends make fun of me. They say, ‘If you want to know what Jonathan’s into, just go on his YouTube channel, and whatever the videos are about, that’s his next endeavor.’”

Jonathan Jones smiles on the field while wearing number 31.

Signed as an undrafted free agent, Jonathan Jones is now an eight-year NFL veteran who has won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, in 2017 and 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation)

His daughter, Skylar, is also a major motivating factor for Jones, who, in 2023, became the Play Like a Girl program’s first male national ambassador.

“Being a girl dad, I had the opportunity to try to link with these programs and open doors for a lot of young females, including my daughter, and so that definitely is a driving force,” he said. “A lot of these spaces are male-dominated, from athletics to STEM and aviation, a lot of the things that I’m involved with are very male-dominated. So, just giving females an opportunity to step through that door — being a minority, I understand what it’s like to have barriers to entry — so that’s empathy I have on their behalf and is something that I’m always going to advocate for so that, as she grows and as she gets older, doors are already open.

“You look at the NCAA women’s tournament this year how it had more viewership than the men’s. That’s just a testament to all the people coming together and putting the driving force behind women’s sports. In aviation, there’s a lot of women you see now making that career take off. I definitely want her to have as many opportunities as she can as she gets older, and that’s definitely a driving force.”

Big future plans

Jones has had a busy offseason, marrying his fiancée, Andressa, in the Florida Keys and undergoing a right knee scope to clear out debris from the wear and tear of the NFL in March.

Jones’ off-the-field efforts earned him a supreme honor this past season, as he was selected as the Patriots’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. That distinction validated the work he and his colleagues are doing to make a difference.

“It meant a lot. It meant that the things that me and the team are doing are making a difference,” he said. “You don’t do it for awards, but that’s just affirmation that you’re in the right direction and you’re doing the right things. It’s just motivation to continue to keep going and do more and help more people.”

After his football days are done, Jones wants to continue to impact the lives of others in meaningful and lasting ways.

“I want to continue to play as long as I can and use the opportunities in the platform that I have to build up the foundation so that, once I am done playing, I’ll be full time with the foundation and helping kids make their journey and to be a part of their journey,” Jones said.

“I consider myself a forever learner, and I’m always trying to learn. I want to make that contagious and show other people and kids that, when you graduate high school and when you graduate college, learning doesn’t end there. There’s so much more in this world that you can learn.”

Jonathan Jones smiles standing next to a lighted stem sign.

Through his Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation, the Auburn alum is working to increase access to STEM education for young people in several states. (Photo courtesy of the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation)