I have had a long journey on my way to creating Adopt-a-Gym. As a child, I faced many of the challenges that we fear our students never will have to face:
- I faced homelessness before the age of two because of my parents’ risky lifestyle.
- My father went to jail from age two to seven for selling drugs.
- At age eight, I learned that my father had AIDS and my mother was HIV positive. That same year I went to three different schools in three different boroughs of New York City.
- From 8-11 years of age, both of my parents returned to substance abuse. Most nights both my parents were high on heroin. My father also had an alcohol problem and an unusually short temper.
- At age 11, my mother was not only diagnosed with full blown AIDS, but also was the victim of domestic violence, forcing us to move out and enrolling me in my fifth school in four cities. Living near poverty level was now the norm once again since we left my father with next to nothing to our name.
- Sadly, at age 13, my mother lost her battle with AIDS, leading me to move in with my aunt and uncle, making them the 6th and 7th adult that helped raise me.
All of these challenging times taught me so many lessons:
One lesson my mother was sure to teach me before her passing was EMPATHY. Even though we were living at or below poverty level, my mother made it a normal occurrence to give away meals to those homeless we encountered in the streets, even though we were ourselves relying on eating 3+ meals per week at local AIDS support group meetings.
A turning point in my life was the time I learned HUMANITY. I had only been in this new school for a little over a year when my mother passed. This was a suburban school where this city boy felt like the outsider. The only real connection I felt to the school was the athletic teams I was on. So I was incredibly shocked when seven classmates pooled their money together to purchase me two tickets to my favorite sports team (sadly, the New York Knicks) as a “get well” gift when I returned to school. It was accompanied by a card with over 200 signatures inside! I was floored by their kindness! This changed my view on humanity as a whole and set in concrete my desire to make a difference in the lives of children. Passing the buck became my new mantra!
Fast forward ten years to my second teaching job once I moved to Alexandria, Virginia to teach at Charles Barrett Elementary School. My new school is nothing like the first school I worked at, P.S. 138 in Brooklyn. P.S. 138 had over 1,400 students and an barren gym closet, whereas Barrett was flourishing with more equipment than I could ever dream of. After winning the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy School Award two years in a row, I was stricken with guilt for how fortunate I was with the surplus of resources we had, while there are schools like 138 and the other public schools I attended as a child that had little to nothing.
Alive was the idea of Adopt-a-Gym!