Violence in Philadelphia is up at a staggering rate and many young people are being caught up and gunned down. The city has more than 110 incidents of gun violence involving kids under the age of 18 this year alone.
It is, you could say, a pandemic in the middle of a pandemic.
“Kids need something, they need an outlet, they need mentors, they need coaches, and this is just a terrible outcome,” said Lisa Ertz.
She has a mother’s heart and a name you know! She’s not just Zach’s mom, but the mother of four sons, all of whom found their way in this world through sports.
And that is why, when the Public League announced there would be no football this fall – in the underserved area where it is needed most – she feared the outcome could be devastating.
“For maybe a quarter of kids or maybe more, this is their life or this saves their life, ” Lisa says.
So she turned to her son, Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz, to make a literal game-changing catch.
He and his wife Julie, along with their Ertz Family Foundation, joined forces with Open Door Abuse Awareness Prevention and Timoteo Sports to fund The Philly Bridge, an after school football program that meets twice a week and provides inner-city athletes with workouts and leadership training.
It helps to replace the routine of the season that also keeps kids off the streets and away from violence.
“The gun violence in this city is unprecedented,” Zach Ertz says. “The amount of kids being directly impacted, the amount of families, it’s just mind-numbing for me right now. For us, if we can help one kid remove himself from that life, or remove himself from that situation, that’s a huge win for us.”
“Football is an opportunity for a lot of us to go to college and get scholarships and get out of the city and explore more than our environment,” says Keyshan Allen, a high school senior participating in the program.
“The kids have seen that there’s people in this city that truly care for them, that truly want to see them succeed,” says Pastor Rob Whitmire of the Timoteo Sports Foundation. “We understand that yes, sports have been taken away from them, but there’s a much bigger picture in front of them and we wanted to paint that picture for them.”
Pastor Rob has been painting much more than a picture. He and Lisa Ertz have been busy getting a 100-year-old building owned by the Grace and Peace Church in Hunting Park ready to be a safe house for the kids. It will be a place for tutoring, career exploration, college readiness, or just somewhere to hang out to keep them off the streets.
Meantime, world-class soccer star Julie Ertz is on the field each day, providing hands-on mentorship. The Ertz’s don’t just write a check, they put in the work.
“The biggest thing is to be there to support these kids, it’s so fun to watch them just play and be kids and let loose,” says Julie. “Obviously 2020 has been really hard, especially in the inner city, and being able to have this outlet – it’s a blessing.”
Zach Ertz has always said he wants to retire as an Eagle. There are no guarantees but they do love Philadelphia and hope this can be part of their lasting legacy.
“Yeah, I think ever since we started the foundation we said, ‘What is going to be the thing that we will leave our mark in Philly?'” says Zach. “And this is just something we felt called to do. What better time than now to leave a quote-unquote lasting impact in these kids’ lives, someone to step in when something they love so much got taken away? We’re not just going to go through this time, we’re trying to help these kids grow through this time.”
And if Ertz has his way, this won’t just be a Philly thing. This past week he teamed up with the Jerome Bettis Foundation in Pittsburgh to help The Steel Bridge get off the ground there, and hopes they can take this program to NFL cities nationwide.