You could say Torey Agee, Vanderbilt’s 6-foot-4 defensive end, stood out among the women putting their lives back together at The Next Door’s Freedom Recovery Community (FRC). The Alabama native was a shoo-in for jobs like cleaning out the program’s apartments or setting up meeting rooms, but for once – unlike on the football field – his size wasn’t what impressed the FRC staff.
“For the women to have interactions with a male who was not abusive, or did not want anything or didn’t try to take advantage of them was wonderful,” said Kristy Pomeroy, FRC Community Services Manager and Agee’s internship supervisor. “I was always impressed with how warmed up (the women) were with him.”
Agee has spent the last two summers volunteering at FRC, working with single mothers and their children. This past summer, he was the only male on staff; the summer before, he was one of two men. FRC is a permanent housing complex in Nashville for women who have a history of substance abuse, mental health issues or homelessness. FRC’s services include group therapy, educational support, case management and relapse prevention.
“I loved the way he would just do things when we asked,” Pomeroy said. “He pitched in and had a servant’s heart.”
A psychology major and academic standout, Agee chose the internship at FRC through a program at Vanderbilt.
“I guess I always see myself as a caring person, a very empathetic person. It just came natural,” he said. “...When I went over, (I’d say) ‘Any way I can help, send me in that direction.’”
Along with manual labor, Agee spent time with the boys living in the 21-unit complex, many of whom rarely have the opportunity to interact with adult males. Early on, he embarked on a mentoring relationship with one of the only teenage boys hanging out at the housing complex.
But the relationship – which Agee said ultimately brought him back to FRC for a second summer of volunteering – didn’t come easily, or overnight.
“I would say it was definitely slow … This young man didn’t have a (male) role in his life. But the more consistent and persistent Torey was with him, the more he came around,” Pomeroy explained. “The work was on Torey. He definitely continued to seek him out. It was work.”
Agee’s persistence paid off, and he and the 16-year-old bonded over football (the teen plays for a Metro high school) and weightlifting.
“At first, he was a little reserved and he didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know what to expect either,” Agee said. “But I feel like as time went on, the bond got closer and closer. I’m still in contact with him to this day. It just meshed.”
He smiled when talking about taking the teen to the movies and the park, “anywhere his mom would let me.”
“You could tell the change in his personality in the way he responded to me,” Agee said. “His mom told me that this ‘made a big difference,’ so that means a lot.”
“As long as he wants to continue the relationship, I’m willing to continue it.”
Pomeroy added, “With the children on this property, some have visitation with a male figure, but a lot don’t. It was a positive experience for him to be with Torey.”
Agee’s answer for why he’s drawn to volunteering at FRC might be expected: “Just knowing that you have the chance to make the difference in someone’s life, that’s the biggest thing.”
But he also has another goal in mind: defying the stereotypes that often follow football players off the field.
“Being at Vanderbilt is fighting against (stereotypes) all the time. You always get the stereotype of the dumb jock, so being here makes it kind of challenging. I definitely feel like giving back to the community and not being self-centered helps the view of all athletes,” he said.
Self-centeredness is the opposite of Agee’s aura, with his kindness, soft-spoken demeanor and humility. (When questioned about his upbringing, which he described as “great,” he failed to mention that his father, Tommie Agee, is an NFL veteran who blocked for Bo Jackson at Auburn and Emmitt Smith for the Dallas Cowboys.)
“Being a student athlete, the eyes are always on us,” he said. “It’s always good to give back to the community because they’re always supporting us.”
As Agee begins his senior year, he’s focused on getting into a graduate program for sports psychology. On the field, in his third season under Commodores head coach Derek Mason, he and the team look to improve on last year’s 4-8 record.
And looking ahead, Agee said he hopes volunteering is a part of his long-term plan.
“If there’s an opportunity in the future, I can definitely see myself doing it again.”