June 20th 2013
Ramsey Suburban News
Written by: Catherine Carrera
Ramsey — The disparity between the 95 percent graduation rate for Ramsey High School and the 49 percent graduation rate for Camden piqued the interest of one resident enough to take a few steps to improve that statistic.
Five million steps, that is.
John Sample, 49, a 17-year resident, began the "5 Million Steps" initiative last August. Its goal is to raise money for Camden students who attend UrbanPromise, two faith-based private schools in the city.
"I equated walking and hiking to their journey through school and this journey I’m on to reach 5 million steps," Sample said during a recent hike at the Ramapo Valley Reservation in Mahwah. "I just want to help kids, give them a fighting chance at a good education."
Through Facebook, Twitter and his website, 5millionsteps.org, Sample has so far attracted $4,000 in financial support for UrbanPromise with his descriptions of his volunteer work and symbolic walking updates.
With the support of his wife, Meg, and two children, Daniel and Dean, who attend the borough’s public schools, Sample is exceeding his goal of reaching five million steps in two years
As the vice president of the National Basketball Association entertainment, he splits his time between working at his Manhattan office, traveling overseas for his job, coaching his sons’ baseball teams, and hiking at the nearby trails at about 5 a.m. on the weekends.
So much hiking, that, five months into the initiative, he reached two million steps, which he tracks using a pedometer application on his iPhone.
By June he reached 3.6 million steps and he hopes to meet his goal by year’s end.
But, how does walking help with this cause?
"I’m usually climbing these steep areas around the mountain — walking gives me a chance to reflect, it gives me moments of complete silence, and I use these moments to think of the adversity and obstacles these kids climb through each day," Sample said. "It’s not much, but it’s what I can do, on a daily basis."
In fact, the way a town’s financial hardships and poverty levels affect the education a child receives, has been a thought lingering in Sample’s mind since he was an adolescent, growing up in Stamford, Conn., he said.
"I grew up in a pretty average town, typical middle-class family household," Sample said. "A few miles away there was a town where kids didn’t have the same opportunities in school. The poverty levels, I think, were pretty high and it just made me wonder why their school had to suffer because of that."
Six years ago, the thought was triggered again while watching a television special on ABC 20/20 with Diane Sawyer called "Waiting on the world to change." Camden was featured in the segment and UrbanPromise founder Dr. Bruce Main was interviewed about the ways his organization helps students in the city.
Sample first became involved as a student sponsor, donating money toward a child’s education. Feeling the need to do more, he created "5 Million Steps."
"The donations tab is directly linked to UrbanPromise, every donation goes straight to them," Sample said.
"John has secured more than 50 donations, totaling more than $4,000," said Lisi Klus, associate of development and communications for UrbanPromise, who has worked with Sample. "The funds raised by [his initiative] will go directly into life-changing programs like tutoring, experiential learning, job training, and summer camps."
When Sample has a moment, he also visits the students on whom he helps "shine a light," Klus said.
"Beyond his financial support, John has invested many hours in reaching out to the children in our programs. He visited [our schools] to speak with our students, encouraging them to excel academically, develop their talents, and dream big," Klus said. "We are extremely grateful for and inspired by John and supporters like him."
"UrbanPromise lives and breathes because of people like John Sample," said Dr. Bruce Main, founder and president of UrbanPromise. "Without his vision, enthusiasm, commitment, and passion, the impact of our programs, for our country's most vulnerable children, would be greatly diminished."