- Like many NFL players working in the community for the holidays, the Jets’ defensive back pitches in with meals at a local women’s shelter. He knows what it’s like to go through hard times
NEWARK, N.J. — Growing up in rural central Florida, Jets safety Terrence Brooks didn’t watch much football. His favorite sport was baseball and his favorite team, the Seattle Mariners, played their home games 3,000 miles away. His favorite player: the legendary Ichiro Suzuki.
As he got to Dunnellon High, though, “football got in the way.” That led to a scholarship at Florida State, a national championship and a third-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft by the Ravens. Two trades and a stopover in Philadelphia later, he’s a member of the Jets’ rejuvenated secondary.
But on a recent Tuesday afternoon in Newark, football is far afield—other than the green No. 23 Jets jersey Brooks wears as he walks down Grant Street into The Apostles’ House, a shelter for the city’s homeless single mothers and their children. The day’s objective? To serve up a big Thanksgiving lunch, a few weeks before the rest of the country celebrates the most quintessential American holiday.
“We always look to do something, particularly around the holidays,” says Carlo Filippone, a local chef, former bodybuilder and owner of Elite Lifestyle Cuisine who teamed up with Brooks to serve turkey, sweet potatoes and green beans to some 50 of the shelter’s women and children. “We were looking for somebody to partner up with anyway, and Terrence’s interests really matched up with ours.”
The shelter’s mission hits home with Brooks, who was raised along with his brothers by his single mother in Dunnellon, around an hour and a half north of Tampa in central Florida. That’s why, through his Terrence Brooks Foundation, his goal is to help single-parent households and at-risk youth.
“I came from a community that was not that great, so we came up through some hard times,” Brooks says. “I was able to have a few role models growing up but for the most part there were no people of this stature there for me, so this is only right for me to do.”
All of those role models were women, Brooks says, tearing up as he addresses the moms during lunch: “I truly salute you for what you deal with everyday. There were some days as kids when we didn’t have food, but we didn’t worry for long because my mom always found a way to feed us. I don’t know how she did it or how she had the energy to do it.”
Members of the Jets’ special teams unit have gone to the shelter on Christmas morning to bring food and gifts ever since former punter Steve Weatherford started visiting The Apostles’ House during his first year with Gang Green. Brooks hopes that will continue this year.
“It all began with Steve,” says Don Shauger, whose construction company worked with then-Newark mayor and current U.S. Senator Cory Booker to refurbish the shelter 10 years ago. This past May there was another renovation, as well as the construction of a new outdoor playground and computer center. “Now every Christmas, my family comes to The Apostles’ House too. It’s a tradition.”
Shauger’s childhood mirrors that of Brooks; he too was raised by a single mother, along with three brothers and a sister in nearby East Orange, N.J. Shauger and his brothers slept on the same mattress with just a single boxspring. “As I kid, I remember the week of Thanksgiving. When the basket of food would come from the church, it was really special,” Shauger says. “To pay it forward is really great.
“This is also at a time when you’re hearing a lot of negative things about the NFL right now. I don’t want to talk about that. You’re here and it’s making you proud to be a NFL fan to see that a NFL player would take his day off to spend it with homeless people.”
Homelessness is a serious problem in Newark, which is New Jersey’s most populous city but has seen many residents leave for neighboring suburbs as crime and poverty remain high. Essex County, of which Newark is the county seat, had 24 percent of the state’s homeless population, according to a study released this July.
One meal won’t curb the problem, but Brooks knows from personal experience that every such gesture, however small it may seem, makes a difference.
“It’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do,” he says, “to have this type of platform that I have to lift up people and motivate them, to keep people going.”
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