Walk for Team Walker: Supporting Jersey City, NJ Inner City Youth
Jerry Walker is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to protecting, supporting and encouraging his students to succeed in life! A four-time High School All American and collegiate basketball standout and a product of the tough city streets of Jersey City, he returned to his Jersey City community to found TEAM WALKER in 1996.
As with many mid-sized cities in America, Jersey City, New Jersey (pop. Close to 250,000) is undergoing a revitalization. Certain areas have been reclaimed and rebuilt with skyscrapers full of businesses and world headquarters, fancy new apartments and condos, green parks and great views of the water and the NYC skyline. The change-over in those areas have displaced long-term, low-income families and manufacturing plants. Woven between these pockets of glitter and glam are a mix of middle-class neighborhoods and old-city streets with dilapidated houses and high levels of poverty and crime.
Growing up in the low-income, high crime areas of Jersey City has great effect on children. According to the US Census Bureau, 18.7 % of population of Jersey City lives below the poverty level, which means one out of every 5 people lives in poverty. This is nearly double the rate of New Jersey as a whole. Most of these are grouped into specific neighborhoods that are also impacted by street crime and violence.
According to research published by the National Center for Children in Poverty, children growing up in poor and violent inner city neighborhoods have less access to health foods/nutrition and fresh fruits/vegetables (food insecurity can more than double the national average), are less likely to graduate from high school than state-wide peers, are more susceptible to anxiety, depression and PTSD, and more likely to develop anti-social and delinquent behaviors. They are more likely to drop out of high school, become involved in gangs and crime (and be victimized by the same), get arrested and live in poverty as adults.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 30% of students in Public Schools in Jersey City fall below the poverty level and over 30% of the students are considered food insecure and come from families receiving food stamps. This same report indicates less than 45% of parents of students in Jersey City Public Schools graduated high school themselves. Adult earnings for these families are lower than for other families with higher educational attainment.
It is here where Team Walker steps in to support inner city Jersey City youth. Their mission is to improve the quality of life of the children of Jersey City, keeping them off the streets, out of trouble, and out of harm’s way. Brothers Jerry and Jasper Walker grew up in this city and know first-hand the troubles that exist on the streets. They continue to live in the city and began Team Walker in 1996.
The organization offers youth academic and athletic programs and performs community outreach for families and seniors. Their 3-D’s (Determination, Dedication and Discipline) create a positive role model and safe space that encourages children to realize their capabilities and dream big! Their hub is the Team Walker Learning Center, the result of a many-year fundraising and outreach campaign. A multi-floor, state of the art science, art. educational and sport facility in the heart of inner city Jersey City.
Team Walker offers a variety of supports including an after school enrichment program From K through High School with STEAM curriculum and tutoring, recreation activities like basketball, drum and dance corps, and more.
In 2018 Team Walker served 225 children daily during the school year and 500 children in the summer programs.
They’ve helped 123 students graduate from college through their academic and counseling support programs.
In addition, they provide extensive outreach to the families and community through programs such as weekly Farmer’s Market (in conjunction with America’s Grow-A-Row), holiday food give-aways, elderly check programs, school drives (for supplies), and holiday parties, including their Holiday Christmas Party which I’ve participated in for many years and wrote about during my first 52-week journey (https://52weeksofcharity.blog/2017/12/23/week-29-team-walkers-holiday-christmas-party/).
2019 is set to be another big year for Team Walker with the anticipated launching of several new programs, including a GED/SAT prep program.
I participated in their 2019 Walk for Team Walker event in Jersey City, an event which raised over $50,000 towards this summer’s program and enabling the organization to do even more outreach to families! The summer programs have a special place in my heart because it is over summer break where students, especially teens, are most at risk to fall into gangs, violent behaviors and crime. Left with nothing to do but wander the streets, the students can easily fall victim to these things. In addition, families who are food insecure rely on schools for hot breakfasts and lunches to feed their children. Over the summers, families often struggle to feed their children, having to make impossible decisions to pay for water/electricity/rent or food. Team Walker offers healthy, nutritious meals for the participants – a much needed support for families.
There were several hundred walkers on this absolutely beautiful, sunny morning as the group walked along the Jersey City shoreline with amazing views of NYC. It was very much like Oz shimmering and dancing in the distance! I was encouraged to see so many students and families and community members, including local and State politicians, come out to participate.
Before the start of the walk we were entertained by Team Walker’s dance corps who did dances and cheers for us. The loving and close connection between Jerry Walker, the Team Walker staff, and the families and children was palpable.
The walk was a mere 1.5 miles but the funds raised will go far in helping Team Walker support the needs of the inner city youth of Jersey City!
To support Team Walker and learn more about the organization, please visit: https://teamwalker.org/
THANK YOU for following my journey!
To check out my other weeks for this SECOND 52 Week journey, click: The-second-journey: The-next-52-weeks-at-a-glance/
This is my second 52-Week journey. To read about my first 52 Week journey, check out: https://52weeksofcharity.blog/
Jersey City population and poverty statistics from the US Census Bureau at: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/jerseycitycitynewjersey/PST045218
Statistics and Information from the National Center for Children in Poverty can be found here: www.nccp.org/
Statistics provided from the National Center for Education Statistics can be found here: https://nces.ed.gov/Programs/Edge/ACSDashboard/3407830 (this is the Jersey City dashboard)
Unless otherwise noted here, photos are ones I took.
Photo of Team Walker classroom is from their website at: https://teamwalker.org/
Photo of graffiti walls in Jersey city courtesy of: https://www.pinterest.com/jillkbiggs/downtown-jersey-city-life/?lp=true