The Eagle Has Landed

By Corwin, Michael R. | Parks & Recreation, April 2001 | Go to article overview

The Eagle Has Landed


Corwin, Michael R., Parks & Recreation


On July 20th, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, as he set the Lunar Module down on the Moon, told the world "The Eagle has landed." Shortly thereafter, Armstrong set foot on the Moon. This was the culmination of almost a decade of exhausting and incredible teamwork to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.

In some of the poorest and most challenging sections of the greater Philadelphia area, there is another "Eagle" that has landed, bringing positive programs and hope to areas that many people don't want to set foot on. I'm referring to the nonprofit charitable arm of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles--the Eagles Youth Partnership.

In 1995, Eagle's owner Jeffrey Lurie and his wife Christina founded the Eagles Youth Partnership (EYP) with the idea that utilizing the "celebrity cache" of the Eagles Football Club could make significant inroads for bringing health and education programs to those in need. I don't even think the Luries' had any idea how much success and difference they would make when they founded EYP. That's of course because they had no idea that their hire as the first EYP Executive Director, Sarah Martinez-Helfman, would turn out to be a nonstop dynamo who would develop a series of successful programs and energize the city in such a substantial way.

Do you think this sounds too boastful? Well, consider this. In 1995, the Philadelphia Recreation Department had 15 recreation centers that were dormant because they did not have funding to be staffed. EYP and Pew Charitable Trust each contributed $20,000 and, along with $10,000 from the Philadelphia Recreation Department, these resources provided staff to offer structured after-school programming for kids five-days-a-week. Each of these recreation centers featured a different type of recreation programming, such as one that served as an arts center, allowing kids to paint and artistically create. How successful was this? The next City Council meetings found these after-school programs so successful that for the first time in the Philadelphia Recreation Department budget to provide formal after-school programming.

Martinez-Helfman, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin (B.A. in English Literature, M.S. degree in Counseling Psychology) was raised in a family that preached a "make society a better place to live" philosophy that she has truly taken to heart. Since college, she has worked as a Chief Clinician for a male adolescent youth home for juvenile justice, served as lead advocate for a Rape Crisis Center, worked in London for "Anonymous Donors," where she advised corporations in how to raise funds for social needs in Europe, and for AmeriCorps where she developed two National Service Programs. She also currently serves on advisory boards for Philadelphia Reads, Books Not Guns, and the Youth Development Council. If that does not meet the goal of "making society a better place," I don't know what does.

First a Carnival

When Martinez-Helfman started with EYP, her first task was to put on a carnival with the players and the community to raise funds to help start EYP. In just two short months, the carnival was produced and EYP had raised $250,000. Then Martinez-Helfman started to chart a course of how to grow. Her instincts and previous work experience told her to form partnerships and to build from there. She introduced herself to school districts, child agencies, the mayor's office, and recreation employees and quickly learned about the needs of residents.

In 1996, the Eagles first round draft choice was Jermane Mayberry, an offensive lineman from Texas A&M-Kingsville. Mayberry had suffered from an underdeveloped optic nerve for most of his life that went undetected because he had never had a proper eye exam. It wasn't until high school that he was treated and prescribed glasses, opening a "new world" for him. Wishing he had had an exam like this when he was younger, Mayberry wanted to contribute to a program that could assist kids in Philadelphia. …

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