(Photo by Melissa Tabeek)
It's an overcast, windy day at James Lee Hunt Playground on Almont Street. The cool weather has left the park empty, save for an occasional passerby.
But on the metal bleachers looking out onto the football field, 51-year old Robert “Bobby” Jenkins fills the air with vivid recollections of his past as a young athlete in Mattapan, and his adult role as a volunteer in the neighborhood.
“It’s good to volunteer, put a smile on kids’ faces, see them grow. That’s the name of the game, in my opinion, said Jenkins.
It is for this attitude, put into action, that Jenkins will be honored Oct. 27, along with 18 other volunteers, by Action for Boston Community Development, Inc. (ABCD), at its 37th annual Community Awards Dinner. ABCD will be celebrating its 50th year of operation as it honors 19 community volunteers, ranging from an 8-year old to a 65-year old foster grandparent.
As a youth, Jenkins found his strongest supporters in sports. His coaches were mentors who kept him in line, on and off the field, off the streets and out of trouble, he said.
He has tried to do the same for the youth of Mattapan.
Jenkins was a coach for the Mattapan Patriots in the Pop Warner Football League from 2000 to 2005, and he still continues to volunteer with the team. He also serves on the Mattahunt Community Planning Committee of the Mattahunt-Wheelock Partnership, a collaborative effort between the city of Boston, Wheelock College, and the Mattapan community. The partnership, in conjunction with residents, worked to re-open the Mattahunt Community Center, which will provide sports clinics, coach trainings and aquatics, among other programs.
In addition, Jenkins is a tennis instructor at the Franklin Park Association and a football and basketball referee, and is involved in the Mattapan United Steering Committee, a coalition of residents and community organizations.
Jenkins, who said he is “not one to sleep the day away,” spends much of his free time attending neighborhood meetings and participating in community events.
“I’m giving back what was given to me when I was a lot of these kids’ age," he said. "When I was a kid, we had a lot of mentors and a lot of adult role models who gave their time to us. I spent many a time on this football field, playing for the Mattapan Rams,” he added.
Though Jenkins grew up in Mattapan, he left the neighborhood for school. He attended Hyde Park Annex as a freshman, but transferred to Madison Park High School for both the educational benefits of the magnet school and to avoid segregation issues at Hyde Park, he said.
Jenkins also had to travel out of the neighborhood to participate in sports, except for football. Those memories have helped to motivate him to become active in youth sports in Mattapan. “I want to give kids opportunities to stay in the neighborhood," he said.
Jenkins has lived in Mattapan for 43 years. He moved here in 1968 and has “been Mattapan” ever since, he said.
“Identity was very important for me growing up. I was born in Roxbury, but I’m Mattapan through and through."
The 19 volunteers to be honored by ABCD hail from a variety of neighborhoods. All were recommended by colleagues and community members for their volunteer work, said John Drew, president and CEO of ABCD.
"One thing that makes them more special: They’re not looking for recognition, they’re just doing it," Drew said. "They go out and try to help their neighbors, try to help the community, in whatever way it is. And selflessly. That’s what pulls them all together."
“Bobby is a force of nature -- with kids, with sports. He’s active, out there working all the time in mentoring. He’s a leader,” said Drew.
While grateful for the honor, Jenkins said he doesn’t believe he is any different than anyone else trying to make some corner of the world a little better.
“It’s not about me. Nothing is about me," he said. "I know a lot of people that are deserving of this award. I mean, I’m glad for the gratitude, but it doesn’t stop there.
"I could get hit by a car or shot tomorrow -- God forbid -- but it’s what’s going on afterwards [that matters]. . . as long as I know, in the future, it’s going to look better for a number of kids.”
The other 18 volunteers who will be honored are: Yvonne Johnson, Victor Leon Sr., Julie Walsh, Michelle Gordon-Seemore, Andres Molina, Sheila Allen, Rosemary Kverek, Angela M. Lopez, Durrell J. Fox, Dr. Roland Tang, Bernard Kindell, Beth Williams, Flossie Parker, Donna Papapietro, Marc Murphy, Yvonne Garcia, Paul K. Chan, and Carolyn Denise Earl.
This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Melissa Tabeek, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel , as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.