Update #3 (Written on August 20): Very nice article by Phil Sheridan, a sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, on Larry Arata and the Prep Charter football program. Read the article, this post, and then send a check to support a very worthy cause. Larry is all about helping the kids excel, and you can be a part of that. Update #2: (Written on August 19): The Prep Charter football team is practicing hard. Look for a feature on the team and coach Larry Arata in the Philadelphia Inquirer around August 20.Update (Written on August 15): I first posted this on July 24. Thus far, the Prep Charter football fundraising effort has raised about $4,000. I know that it's summertime, that many write their charity checks in December, and that some of you might have missed this story. For all of you checking out the blog because I once analogized an Eagles' TE to Vince Papale, the WR/special teams player who didn't play college football and who played for Dick Vermeil's Eagles for 3 seasons in the 1970's, you might find this story interesting. Philadelphia is full of stories like Vince's, and if you want to help launch many other great stories, please make a contribution to Prep Charter so that it can start its football program. Several of Larry's college classmates and former teammates have made contributions, and this is a great cause. Thank you for your support. (Information about where to send your contribution is set forth below -- and now is the time to help!).
My friend Larry Arata needs your help.
Larry is a Princeton graduate, and after years in the business world couldn't avoid his true calling -- teaching young people in troubled neighborhoods -- any longer. About five years ago he walked away from the corporate life that is all but expected of many a Princetonian -- and became a schoolteacher.
In the intercity.
It's what many people talk about doing --working with young people and teaching kids, leaving a legacy that is denominated in something other than currency
-- but few do. Larry has made this commitment and is working in an area where society -- and his kids -- need him the most.
At a Philadelphia charter school, Prep Charter, it's called, in a part of South Philadelphia called Point Breeze, nestled along the Schuykill River south of tony Center City and east of where the University of Pennsylvania is. It's a tough neighborhood, and gang violence has affected most of the students in their daily lives. The school has 150 students in each grade, and relies upon the Philadelphia School District and grant money from various sources for its funding. There doesn't seem to be much room for extras. Hence this appeal.
Five years ago Larry left the business world unfulfilled. He didn't make a fortune, but he realized that teaching kids in a troubled school district is what he's meant to do. Teaching and coaching football (and working construction in the summertime to help make ends meet). So far, he's doing the teaching part -- he teaches history, but he has yet to accomplish the football part. The reason: money.
This is a school that has gotten off to a good start. This is a school that in its short existence won the Pennsylvania State High School Basketball title last year in the AA class (the biggest schools play in AAAA). This is a man who has had his kids out on the sandlots playing flag football and in the weight room, both to give them a greater sense of purpose and discipline and to keep them off the tough streets. The kids themselves are dedicated. Many are not from the neighborhood and have long commutes on public transportation to get to the school.
It's a life that most of us do not experience every day.
While many of us like to read stories like this one for their happy endings, we don't know what it takes to help make the happy endings themselves. You need dedicated teachers, committed parents and disciplined children. It's far from easy.
Larry sent out a mailer recently to his Princeton classmates asking for money. He's seeking to raise $20,000 to start a football team, but Larry's always been a modest guy. I called him and told him that he should try to raise $50,000. I figure that if 200 people who we know can kick in $250 apiece, we can reach that goal easily.
Some here's the appeal -- give $250 to this cause. Make your check payable to "Prep Charter" and send it to Prep Charter, 1928 Point Breeze Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19145, Attn.: Joanna Gabris, Principal, and please write "Football" on the memo line (and tell 'em that you're doing this to support Larry Arata in his quest to make a football team happen at this worthy school). Most of us won't have an opportunity to own any part of a football team, but here's a chance to start one -- and to make a serious difference in the lives of deserving kids. If you can give more -- and many of you can -- please write a bigger check. Some of you out there can, and it would be great if you could make the Prep Charter football team one of your most significant -- if not most significant -- causes for 2006. Prep Charter is a 501(c)(3) organization, which means that your donations will be tax deductible. And if you can't give that much, give something. You'll be glad that you did.
There are many worthy causes out there, but this one is paramount for sports fans who want to make a difference.
The school administrators doubt that Larry can raise the money, and he needs it fast, say, by the end of August. So if you're going to commit to this, commit now. Send your check in today.
I asked Larry about his experiences at the school, and you can't help but sense his dedication to the school's mission and to the goal of giving everyone a great education. Last year at homecoming I ran into Larry, who had brought several of his kids in tow to show them a world far different from where they go to school. He is truly committed to this cause, and he deserves your support.
He recounted a story about how perilous it is to work in an intercity environment. One day last year he had his kids out on a field, playing flag football. They were having a good time when three toughs from the neighborhood showed up, the mouthiest being a 5'6", 135-pound kid who had no interest in school but a chip on his shoulder the size of the entire city. He and his friends mouthed off to Larry and Larry's students, who represent many different neighborhoods and ethnic groups. Larry tried to fend them off as politely as possible, and the toughs departed. Larry's kids went back to playing football. They resisted the temptation to mix it up.
If only it ended there.
About twenty minutes later those three toughs came back with about twenty of their friends from the housing projects in which they live. Their phalanx approached Larry's students, and their conduct was menacing. Larry has always preached a "turn the other cheek" mentality to his students, and he was proud that they backed him up but didn't engage the toughs in the trash talking that ensued or start a fight. As Larry was trying to keep the groups apart, the lead tough hauled off and belted Larry above the eye. Larry is a big man -- about 6'2" tall and weighing in at about 215 pounds, and he takes pretty good care of himself. He told me that it's as hard as he's ever been hit -- and this is a guy who played major college football (Princeton was Division I when he was there).
A melee of sorts ensued. The neighborhood toughs went after kids of one ethnicity, piling onto them. Larry sprinted ten yards this way and ten yards that way, throwing the punks off his kids who were being attacked. About ten kids ran back to the school and sought help. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, but was only five minutes, the Philadelphia police showed up. At the sight of their arrival, the two dozen or so neighborhood toughs ran back to their neighborhood. Unfortunately, for whatever the reality is in the modern world of policing, they did not pursue these delinquents (and, in my opinion, emboldening them to come back if this awful behavior does not bear any consequences). Larry and most of his team made it back to the school, thankfully with no injury more serious than the cut above Larry's eye.
I told Larry he was lucky that no one pulled a weapon.
He told me that the next day, in school, the kids who stood their ground were razzing the kids who ran back to the school, and the kids who ran back to the school said they did so because they thought they saw a gun. There have been shootings in this neighborhood, Larry advises me, but thankfully they emerged from this donneybrook relatively unscathed.
Prep Charter, as a public school, cannot turn away any kid who applies other than for reasons of not having any more room. They can, however, expel kids who don't measure up. While some explusions take place, the vast majority of the students are committed to learning. 90% of them end up going to college. The parents of these kids are to be lauded for steering their kids on a path to a better way of life. The students themselves are to be commended for their commitment to excellence.
And people like Larry Arata are to be cheered for standing and delivering.
But they need your help.
Please do what you can to make a donation to this great, worthy cause.
For those of you who know me, I'm creating an e-mail list and will e-mail you personally with a PDF version of the flyer that Larry sent out to his Princeton classmates a few weeks ago.
Please dig deep here and help out.
Your donation will definitely make a difference in the lives of a bunch of deserving people.