By KYW Newsradio community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Jerome Allen believes his life is the result of divine intervention.

Raised by a single mother, he grew up in the Happy Hollow section of Germantown amid struggle.

“There were 19 of us in a five-bedroom house,” he says. “I could not dream that I would be able to live in St. Petersburg, Russia, or live in Italy or Spain.”

Basketball was Allen’s saving grace; that, and the guardian angels placed at every stage of his life.  He fell in love with the game at a young age, spending his time at local recreation centers.  He says a chance encounter with the director of one of those rec centers changed the course of his life.

“I was in his office, doing my math homework this one day,” recalls Allen, noting that it was the only time he ever worked on his math homework in that office. “That exchange landed me at Episcopal Academy, and then that ended with me at Penn.  It was pure luck.”

Or divine intervention.  Allen’s time at Penn led to an international pro basketball career.  But he began feeling the pull of his hometown and the need to give back.

“Basketball allowed me to travel the world,” says Allen, now a father of four.  “But it started to hit me: this really isn’t about me. It really changed my perspective on what my true purpose is.”

Allen and some of his mentors founded Brothers Embracing Brothers, working with inner city youth by providing them a recreational outlet.

That experience evolved into H.O.O.D. (Helping Our Own Develop) Enriched, in which they mentored young people through academics.

“We had reading and math clinics for them on Saturday mornings,” he recalls.  “We took them on college tour.”

And, Allen says, they took the young people to summer basketball camps in Rome, Bologna, and other international cities, spending $400,000 of their own money over the course of five years.

“It was, like, I’m going put my money where my mouth is,” he says.

Today, Allen is the head coach of the Penn Quakers basketball team and spends his days recruiting, coaching, and mentoring his players.  And although NCAA rules limit his outreach, he still finds a way to give back, “whether it be scholarship foundations or just providing access.”  And he points out that his wife is also part of that process.

 

Hear the extended interview with Jerome Allen in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 25:49)…

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