The BASE, City Realty team up to level playing field for youth in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan

The Business Journals Content Studio

By Laura Newpoff – Contributor

Aug 21, 2019

Prior to launching the BASE, Robert Lewis Jr. was the vice president of philanthropy at The Boston Foundation, where he was making an impact in the community by granting about $20 million to various efforts.

For someone who had spent years trying to make a difference by improving the lives of others, that role might have seemed like the perfect job.

The lifelong youth baseball coach, however, had another dream in mind. He launched The BASE, which would build on his 35 years of experience coaching the Boston Astros, a youth baseball team he started in 1978 in the Villa Victoria community. The nonprofit is an urban academy that combines sports and educational opportunities to help reimagine pathways to success for urban youth. Peter Gammons, MLB Hall of Fame sports writer, said about The BASE, this is “hands down, the best urban baseball team in America.” The BASE won the Triple Crown Sports 18U United States Baseball Championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

The life-changing decision was prompted by a poverty report the foundation had published a year earlier.

“Black and brown boys weren’t positive on any social determinants locally, regionally or nationally,” Lewis said. “That bothered me. I knew I needed to do something to have an impact on the black and brown community.”

Great talent pool

Since 2013, more than 200 BASE student-athletes have gone on to college, career training or the workforce. One of them is Cristian Lorenzo, a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in the Mattapan neighborhood and joined The BASE several years ago when he was in high school.

“There was a big focus on education,” Lorenzo said. “You’d go in after school and check in and there was one hour of mandatory homework. After you’d get that done, then they’d let you go hit baseballs.”

Through the program, Lorenzo was able to secure an internship at City Realty Group in Brookline, where he’d learn about property management. Today, at age 19, he’s a full-time property manager at the company and also a third-year business management student at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Steve Whalen, City Realty’s managing partner, said the partnership began with his company donating Chromebooks to BASE graduates. Later, he’d hire interns for the company’s City Crew landscaping business and in the home office.

“I’ve found I’m starting at a really good place with these kids because they already have the values instilled from The BASE,” Whalen said. “They know about earning their spot, trying every day to be better, excellence is the new minimum standard and they want to soak up knowledge.”

City Realty has hired 30 BASE student athletes as interns and in jobs that include landscaping, snow removal and property management. It also has paid for BASE students to obtain their real estate licenses. Lewis said among the Chromebooks, internships, jobs and licensing, more than 100 kids have been positively impacted.

The BASE and City Realty are partners in the Lewis Family Foundation’s Jobs Action Tank, which supports key community organizations to place 700 young people from Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan into full-time jobs.

Whalen said that while many may view the partnership as a company extending a hand to lift vulnerable kids up, it’s actually the other way around.

“I’m tapping into this really great talent pool and benefitting my company greatly from this relationship,” he said. “They want to do the work and do it well. And once they are established and making money, they learn it’s their responsibility to give back to the programs that helped them. I’ve found they enjoy having an impact in the world.”

Baseball as a first step

About 60% of the youth served at The BASE come from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. Lewis said he has an affinity for them having grown up in East Boston in the 1960s as part of the first black family to live in the Maverick Street housing projects.

“Neighborhood sports changed my life,” Lewis said. “I needed to share and show that black and brown kids from urban environments are as talented as anyone in America. So I took the same disciplines and teachings that I learned from baseball — preparation, practice, performance, hard work and teamwork — and applied it to create The BASE methodology.”

Lorenzo said being part of The BASE kept him off the streets and gave him an extended family. He stays involved through its annual National Urban BASEball Classic games that are held in Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, New York and Pittsburgh. And he participates in the nonprofit’s career fairs to talk to urban youth about his path to employment and the real estate business.

Lorenzo, Lewis said, is an example of how a black or brown kid can take an opportunity and use it to transform his life. When he was at The BASE, he went to high school, played baseball and also had a part-time job to save for college. Or, as Lewis describes it, “he grinded.”

“He’s going to be a guy who at age 22 will be able to buy a house,” Lewis said. “He is going to own real estate. He’s a guy who at age 25 is going to be hiring folks. He’s a young brown kid with an opportunity and he’s going to surpass any expectation others had for him. But we knew, with an opportunity, he would.”

Interested in getting involved, or have a successful partnership story to share that focuses on hiring young people from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan into full-time jobs? Visit the Lewis Family Foundation’s job page for more information.

The vision of the Lewis Family Foundation is that young people from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan live in and reinvest their service, capital, and intellect to ensure that their neighborhoods continue to thrive and are places of opportunity and access.

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer with The Business Journals Content Studio.