Kevin Evans (left), of Village Catering, and Jeff Templeton, a J.S. Jenks' parent who helped organize the event, pose for a photo at last year's Helping Hands event held in Love Park.

Kevin Evans (left), of Village Catering, and Jeff Templeton, a J.S. Jenks’ parent who helped organize the event, pose for a photo at last year’s Helping Hands event held in Love Park.

by Sue Ann Rybak

J.S. Jenks School parent Jeff Templeton, co-founder of S.P.E.A.K. (Staying Positive Equals Amazing Kids), a nonprofit organization that encourages kids to stand up against peer pressure and for positive change within their community, is one of Philadelphia’s unsung heroes.

Whether it’s talking to kids and parents about drugs, rewarding a student’s academic achievements or just providing a hot meal, Templeton, 41, understands that little things make a big difference.

And this Saturday, Nov. 17, from 2 to 4:30 p.m., S.P.E.A.K. and other local community organizations and businesses including Helping Hands of Free Masonry, Arcadia University School of Continuing Studies, The Joy of Sox, Cosimo’s Pizza Cafe and Village Catering will be lending a helping hand by serving an early Thanksgiving dinner and distributing winter coats, blankets and toiletries to those in need.

This is the third year Templeton has helped organize the event, and every year it gets bigger.

“Last year, we had a phenomenal turnout and more than 300 people showed up,” Templeton said.

This year Arcadia University’s School of Continuing Studies’ students held their own fund-raiser and collected socks and other items for the homeless.

Templeton said he was incredibly grateful for the overwhelming support the organization has received from the community. He hopes that through direct intervention today’s youth will understand that homelessness can happen to anyone.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that they made mistakes in their life – not every homeless person is a drug addict or an alcoholic,” Templeton said.

He said many families are struggling just to make ends meet.

Templeton said we are all “just one bad break” away from a financial crisis. He said sadly the majority of today’s homeless are veterans.

This year S.P.E.A.K. plans to set up a table with information for homeless vets.

“We are expecting a retired Vietnam veteran – a three time Purple Heart recipient to come down and help us serve the vets,” Templeton said.

He said may veterans have difficulty navigating the sea of red tape, and don’t have access to a computer.

“They shouldn’t be falling victim to the everyday things that everyone else is,” he added. “They put their life on the line for us. It’s the least we can do.”

Templeton said community projects like this one are important because they teach today’s youth to be active leaders in their community.

“Teenagers learn important values and feel connected to their community,” he said.

Brianna McCoy, 17, who participated in last year’s event, said she had fun doing something that really had a positive impact on people’s lives.

“I felt like I was making a difference,” McCoy said. “I would encourage anyone to join S.P.E.A.K. because it helps you change your outlook on life.”

She noted that little things do make a difference, adding, “I am just happy to give them what I can.”

For more information or to make a donation, contact Cruz Rivera at 215-254-5157 or visit www.phillyspeak.org.