Last year’s evening dream team included Bob Ley, ESPN broadcaster, who once again returned as master of ceremonies. “We are here tonight to support Jerry Walker, who truly embodies the concept of servant- leadership,” said Ley. “Although we are grateful for your support, it’s the kids who are the dream.” And the stars. This year’s Team Walker Student-Star was 11-year-old Gevonda Hagooda, a 6th grader at Jersey City Middle School #4 whose favorite subject is math. She wants to work with money and possibly own a bank someday. That’s after majoring in business and playing basketball for her dream school, UConn. “Team Walker has taught me ‘dedication, determination and discipline.’ Team Walker has given us hope. And that’s what we need in today’s world. Thank you, Team Walker, for providing a place where kids like me feel at home.”
In addition to a record number of attendees – 275, a bold fundraising initiative was introduced by the event’s Hero Award Recipient, Phil McGovern, Jr., partner of the law firm Connell Foley and chairman of the board of St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City.
“‘Take one for the team’ and pledge $1500/year which is the cost to sponsor one Team Walker student for a year,” challenged McGovern.
“Most people think Team Walker is about athletics,” said Jerry Walker. “But we are really about academics. We focus on education because that’s what gets you out of the poverty cycle. My philosophy is to dream big and live by the 3-D’s: dedication, determination and discipline. With those 3-D’s, you can achieve your dreams.”
Other award recipients included Thomas Coughlin, CEO and President of BCB Community Bank, as the Pop Curry Award winner. Deeply rooted in the culture and people of local communities, BCB Bank provided $15,000 for the opening day of Team Walker’s Summer Program. Coughlin spoke of the faces of Team Walker kids that light up with the chance of a future. “We should be reaching into our pockets to capture these kids so they don’t get lost in the system,” said Coughlin.
Kevin Willard, Seton Hall University’s men’s basketball coach who guided the Pirates to the 2016 Big East Tournament crown, received the service award. “Team Walker is an amazing, amazing foundation,” said Willard. “Kids are our future and time is your most valuable asset. If you can give your time, become a mentor to these kids. Most people have no idea what they are trying to overcome.”
Rounding out the evening’s honorees was Star Teacher Oluwakemi Oladosu, who said, “Jerry Walker, you changed my life. Team Walker gave me the opportunity to serve children first as an intern and now as a teacher.”