Jerome Bettis and his Bus Stops Here Foundation announced on Saturday a partnership with Philadelphia Eagle Tight End Zach Ertz (along with wife, Julie) and his Ertz Family Foundation and Veritas Sports Injury Network to impact inner-city youth in Pennsylvania. Called "The Steel Bridge" for Pittsburgh and "The Philly Bridge" for Philadelphia, these programs are designed to provide alternative activities and mentorship opportunities to inner-city youth during these challenging times where organized sports are not able to function due to COVID-19 and street violence is at an all-time high.
The programs were created after the tragic death of Philadelphia teenager and youth football player Angelo Walker. Walker was shot while riding his bike near his home. He was the third player killed on his high school football team due to gun violence.
"Julie and I are grateful to partner with amazing organizations striving to bring services to kids in the most high-risk areas of Philly," said Zach Ertz. "It is our wish that the bridge we build with like-minded individuals will help bring hope to the kids who need it the most. We are honored to now build an even greater bridge with the city of Pittsburgh for the state of PA and look very forward to working with one of the greats both on and off the field to achieve this."
"It is my foundation's goal to impact as many inner-city youth as I can. I want to get them off of the streets and into programming where they can thrive," says Jerome Bettis. "I was that kid growing up in inner-city Detroit that was changed by a free football camp held by Reggie McKenzie. Now it is my turn to pay it forward."
The two foundations were brought together through the efforts of Dr. Peter Cummings and his Pennsylvania nonprofit organization Vertias Sports Injury Research Network.
"My main concern is the health and safety of all athletes and right now without sports we are seeing skyrocketing levels of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and violence among the young people in our communities. This creates an unprecedented risk to the safety and wellbeing of our most vulnerable athletes. When I learned of the lifesaving work of these organizations, I was compelled to make a connection," says Dr. Cummings.
The Philly Bridge programming is currently taking place two days a week at the Lighthouse Field in Kensington and will soon transition to a Safe House Space in Hunting Park. Partnering organizations for the program are as follows:
1. Veritas Sports Injury Research Network for Health and Safety Training
2. ODAAP for Trauma Informed Care
3. Timoteo Sports for Faith-based Mentoring
4. FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) for Christian Sports Ministry
5. Philly Futures for College Readiness
6. Emerald Foundation for both Esports and Career Exploration
7. Sunday Love Project for Food Insecurity
8. Young Life for Faith Leadership
9. Maxwell Football Club
10. Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative
11. JAWS Youth Playbook (Ron Jaworski Foundation)
The Steel Bridge is in the planning phase and hopes to launch later this Fall.