Bob Jones is synonymous with Garfield. Bob Jones is analogous to the highest expression and definition of what it means to be an agent of change. In deed. And that’s no typo. If, in fact, change moves at the speed of trust as Stephen Covey argues, there is no disputing the fact that the grassroots pace for change in this resilient community has been set by the former star running back at Peabody High School (now the Obama Academy). While some try to posit, and others like to post it, Bob personifies the old adage of “never forget where you come from.”
And it’s nothing new.
There is no place like home.
Where everybody knows your name. And when you show up, the community is always glad you came. Because they know you’re always accompanied by emergent change. In that regard, Bob is a trusted member of the Garfield community, a key voice and decision-maker on the issues and opportunities that affect the overall quality of life and well-being for residents and families around his way. His longstanding history and relationship with Garfield families has been the impetus for his nonprofit organization Brothers and Sisters Emerging (B.A.S.E) and the driving force behind its overall reach and inter-generational impact.
Spotlight On…The Mission 💡
The mission of B.A.S.E. is to strategically advocate and connect the youth of promise and families to life-sustaining resources.
Founded in 2008, B.A.S.E is located in and serves the community of Garfield, situated in the northern section of Pittsburgh’s East End. B.A.S.E. is a unique organization in our ecosystem as it has evolved from a youth football and cheerleading program into a year-round organization offering after-school, summer camp, and mentoring programs to youth.
Through its core programs, B.A.S.E. engages approximately 150 families per year. B.A.S.E.’s after-school and summer camp programs serve close to 200 youth annually. The Garfield Gators program serves 250 kids annually through football, cheerleading, and basketball, serving over 4000 youth since its inception. Garfield Youth Sports is managed by close to 40 volunteers from the community who serve as coaches and supporters. Each of these volunteers is trained in trauma-informed care.
By transitioning to a full-year, volunteer, and staffed program, the organization has remained adaptive to the conditions on the ground. B.A.S.E. has evolved over time into a venerable community-based organization building positive relationships through advocacy, and social support as well as harnessing the power of sports to build character and fortify community.
And so the story of B.A.S.E. began as Garfield Youth Sports (GYS) in 1994, as a fledgling football, cheerleading, and basketball program serving youth. GYS was founded by five African-American men from the Garfield area. The premise was simple, yet profound. Back in the day, sports was the vehicle that kept them out of the streets and on a positive path. Sports kept them in school, making sure their grades stayed up. But times were changing. With the growing influence of gang culture, interest in recreation was declining. Garfield Youth needed more outlets. Families needed something to cheer for, and take pride in, despite the systemic failures confronting them and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions surrounding them. They needed someone to build up what was being torn down around them.
Spotlight On…The Vision 💡
The endeavor of B.A.S.E. is to create community environments where cycles of social, emotional, educational, and economic disparities are broken.
So, this band of brothers decided to give back to the community through the love of the sport that had given so much to them. From this perspective, their vision to harness the power of youth sports to transform their community and build out an organizational infrastructure that contributed to the overall health prospects of families was light years ahead of emerging frameworks.
Effectively, B.A.S.E. came into existence as an early forerunner to the Social Determinants of Health framework and alignment as a vital and essential part of the Neighborhood and Built Environment. If you’ve ever been to “the swamp,” home of the Garfield Gators, you will understand B.A.S.E’s application to sport as Social & Community Context.
And it’s nothing new.
There is no place like home.
“We knew we had to do something to bring the community together and combat the drugs, gang violence and negativity that was setting in,” Jones said. “At the time, I was working at the Housing Authority and got invited to a meeting at the Kingsley Association to discuss alternatives to gang violence. Kingsley talked about how their youth football program was helping deter that activity so I approached them after to see if they could help me get the ball rolling in Garfield.”– Bob Jones
Bob sought out the Bloomfield-Garfield Association to serve as fiscal sponsor and his team set a goal of raising $20,000 to launch their program. After raising more than half, they went public to the community with their plan. They settled on the name Garfield Gators. And the rest, as well as their opponents became history.
“We changed the game,” Jones continued. “We were young guys coming up against established programs and were thinking differently. Up until that time, these programs survived off of dinner sales and coming out of pocket. We showed them how to get grants, corporate sponsors, local businesses, and city support.”
Fast forward to GYS today; as a core program of B.A.S.E., approximately 250 boys and girls ranging in age from 5 through 15 learn teamwork, good sportsmanship, and respect for oneself, others, and those in authority. GYS is staffed by volunteer coaches and parents who provide coaching expertise, cheerleading training, and operations of the concession stand. There are approximately 40 African-American male coaches who have worked with Garfield youth annually for decades. The coaches and leaders of B.A.S.E. provide in-depth team mentoring to help youth navigate the difficult environment they are growing up in.
Youth actively engaged in B.A.S.E. programs and their families seek out assistance from the coaches year-round. Coincidentally, it would be through such a relationship the key turning point and assistance for B.A.S.E. emerged.
“One of our parents approached me who was a board member with the PACE Foundation and thought we would benefit from their capacity building program and asked if I would be interested in doing a strategic plan,” said Jones. “We were all working in human services so we understood the sector and agreed to apply for it. What we got was so much more than we expected. The consultants pulled data and information on the youth we served, agencies we referred to and showed us our influence over the community. Our vision to create an organization that would serve as the nucleus for Black Garfield and provide all of the resources the community needed expanded exponentially after undergoing the strategic plan.”
Through hard work and persistence, the leadership of GYS B.A.S.E. has achieved year-round expansion for its program offerings which include:
• Sports – football and basketball and cheerleading
• Mentoring – Group and Individual
• Advocacy and support
• Resource and referral
• Cultural Enrichment
• Annual Awards Banquet
• Fitness Camp
• After School Program
Just as sports was the vehicle to build character, the B.A.S.E. leadership team realized sports would be the vehicle for the organization to go outside the lines to tackle broader systemic issues plaguing the community. Their work at the grass roots level caught the attention of then State Representative Ed Gainey who approached Bob about doing even more. A chance meeting with Gainey and County Executive candidate Rich Fitzgerald at Vento’s Pizza after a Gators game resulted in a contract for after-school programming to address key findings.
For example, B.A.S.E focus groups and interviews revealed that Garfield youth were faced with issues such as delinquency, low academic achievement (which contributes to dropping out of school), and peer pressure to join gangs and fall victim to the unhealthy culture and negative behavior these involvements entail. As such, Garfield reflected the ongoing juvenile justice and delinquency challenges shared across Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS).
Furthermore, the recent closure of Allegheny County’s juvenile detention center, which housed an average of 1,600 youth annually, created a gap in services across the city. Enter B.A.S.E to offer critical programming and wrap-around service support to fill the void in this critical time of need with a vision to scale and expand to include additional Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
B.A.S.E. Program Overview & Activities
Currently, program participants come from a number of sources. Youth are primarily introduced to the program via their participation in the Garfield Youth Sports program which has participants from approximately twenty-eight neighborhoods in the City of Pittsburgh. Through partnerships with the schools within the Pittsburgh Public School districts, teachers make referrals to B.A.S.E that are based upon student records. Often, children are introduced to the program via their participation in B.A.S.E’s out-of-school programming.
Other academic enrichment activities B.A.S.E. offers include coaching youth to successful middle-school and high-school transitions, assistance in achieving and maintaining Pittsburgh Promise eligibility (a scholarship program for PPS students who maintain enrollment and good grades through graduation), developing peer leadership style, performing community service projects, and avoiding becoming a juvenile offender. Staff assists to achieve and maintain academic excellence by offering tutoring and other academic enrichment services that develop character and enhance their ability to thrive in diverse environments.
The Gatorway Mentoring program provides both group and individual mentoring (as needed) conducted by community-based volunteer coaches, African-American business owners, and local community leaders.
B.A.S.E. has used the Council for Boys and Young Men curriculum in conducting Gatorway Male Mentoring. The Council is a model of structured gender-relevant support groups for boys and young men from 9-18 years old. The Council promotes boys’ natural strengths and aims to increase their options about being male in today’s world. The Council challenges and engages boys and young men in activities, dialogue, and self-expression to question stereotypical concepts and to increase their emotional, social, and cultural literacy by promoting valuable relationships with peers and adult mentors.
B.A.S.E. ensures that volunteers are familiar with the local neighborhood’s challenges and opportunities. This allows volunteers to help youth navigate their community based on lived experiences. In addition to mentoring, the B.A.S.E. program includes cultural enrichment experiences to educate youth on career opportunities. Such experiences include exposure to mainstream opportunities and community businesses.
By partnering with the Pittsburgh Public School District, B.A.S.E mentorship expands to schoolwork, and when needed, B.A.S.E mentors can work alongside school professionals to support their youth. In addition to these partnerships, B.A.S.E has delivered a Post-Secondary Education and Career Preparatory program for the past six years. This program prepares to graduate seniors for college and beyond. As a community asset, B.A.S.E. works collaboratively with the community and regional partners to strategically lead and improve juvenile justice and delinquency prevention programming. Currently, B.A.S.E. leads the Juvenile Justice Coalition Crime & Delinquency, a local collaborative of government, professional, nonprofit leaders, and local decision-makers who are tasked with designing measures to decrease juvenile crime and delinquency.
To further support youth who are likely to have experienced violence and/or other forms of trauma, mentors are guided by the B.A.S.E Trauma-Informed Leadership Guide. This B.A.S.E guide was developed using vetted research and current best practices for trauma-informed engagement. Advancing the family systems theory, B.A.S.E connects families to the needed resources (social services, education, etc.) to maximize healthy outcomes for the entire family. This information is also used to create a profile for each youth with a narrative on the family dynamic, grades, citizenship, and absences.
“Football gave us a birds-eye view into families and the community which allowed us to see it all, good and bad,” said Jones. “Coaching connected me from only seeing everyone on the playing field and after games to coming together around the kitchen table to come up with a different kind of game plan.”
From Bob’s perspective, the sky is the limit for the future of B.A.S.E. and the place he still calls home. And he’s seen it all, from growing up in the Garfield projects to seeing fathers leaving homes and drugs coming in. From growing up and going to school with white kids, to Garfield being all black, to Garfield being predominantly white, to other outsiders now coming in. And with them, raising prices so many can no longer afford to stay (given a dearth of affordable housing).
When he looks at his neighborhood he sees no elementary school so kids are coming to his after-school programs from 3-4 different schools. He sees kids – black and white – on neighboring blocks who don’t even know each other because they are bused to schools outside the community. While the demographics have changed, in Bob’s eyes, the vision remains the same. Community. He sees a community center in Garfield and B.A.S.E.’s future with his sights set on a location.
A home base, if you will.
“We need more space. We need a place for the community to come together and share emotional moments,” Jones says. “ People come to me and want us to host baby showers and other life events and connect to other critical social services. We need a central place we can bring families and everyone together, all races, providers and programming. An entire ecosystem coming together to build something new. Things aren’t going back to the way they were.”
Perhaps, but one thing remains true. Bob Jones and the dedicated staff and volunteers of B.A.S.E. will be there for it.
And it’s nothing new.
There is no place like home.
Subscribe here for more Ecosystem Spotlights from The Forbes Funds: Transformative Nonprofit Work Happening in SWPA