Lee Jenkins has a hard time saying no to others.
His son, Malcolm, was a preeminent high school football player at Piscataway (N.J.) High School, about 70 miles north of Philadelphia. An All-State and All-America selection, Jenkins led his team to three straight state championships. Jenkins had determined that he wanted to continue his education and football career at Ohio State.
Greg Schiano was just hired as the head coach with Rutgers and pleaded with Malcolm to re-visit the team's facility and give the school just one more chance. Jenkins surrendered the phone over to his father and left the room and figured that would be the end of it. Malcolm Jenkins made one more trip to Rutgers before officially he committed to Ohio State.
Lee Jenkins' inability to disappoint others worked in Malcolm's favor as well. Lee and Gwendolyn Jenkins raised Malcolm and his two siblings on Rock Avenue in Piscataway and provided a structure that other kids in the neighborhood didn't have.
"My house was the only one with a steady father there," Malcolm Jenkins said. "Some people had different situations, but I think I was the only one whose father was married to my mom and these are their kids. Obviously, that's why a lot of people gravitated towards us. My dad, he didn't mind stepping into that role. There were father figures around, but I think we were the only one who had that steady foundation."
Lee Jenkins works as a computer consultant, and while raising his kids his days would begin early as he drove his wife to-and-from work each day since she battles anxiety and is unable to operate a vehicle. The long days and the pressure of helping provide for three kids may have wore on Lee Jenkins, but one would never know by being around him.
"He was loving. He loved to lecture a lot," Malcolm Jenkins said. "To be honest, as a kid I didn't really understand the perspective my dad had until I grew up. I can reflect back on talks we had since he's tried to teach me and I finally get it. I didn't realize how hard he was actually working because we didn't really have too many needs growing up that we could see as kids. I really didn't know how much he was working, how hard he was working and the kind of stress that probably put on him."
Malcolm Jenkins' father was a leader by example and instilled that in his son. When Jenkins finally went to Ohio State, he was a leader on the field as a team captain and All-America selection for a team that reached the BCS National Championship Game. Off the field, Jenkins volunteered by reading to kids or serving as a mentor to high school students while earning his bachelor’s degree in communications. When Jenkins arrived in New Orleans with the Saints in 2009, he wanted to use his platform to help children. In 2010, Jenkins started The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation.
"My mom and I really wanted to focus our efforts into one main goal instead of doing something sporadic and bring some kind of cohesion to it," said Jenkins, who won a Super Bowl and was a two-time captain in New Orleans. "We started a foundation and really wanted to focus it on kids, particularly underprivileged kids in underserved communities. We started in New Orleans and had the vision to eventually branch out to Ohio, where I played, and then Jersey, where I'm from obviously.
"I've always had a soft spot for kids, knowing the opportunities and the impact that people have made on my life. To see kids who lack just that one person to pour into them, that gets to me. I've always had that passion to try to bridge that gap or let them know that there are some resources, there are some people out here who care about you."
In New Orleans, The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation teamed up with the Urban League's College Track program to provide a life-skills component to their academic initiatives. Jenkins reasoned that a lot of the high school students he worked with were the first members of their respective families to go to college. For a lot of the students, college was going to be their first voyage out of the city and Jenkins knew it would be important to prepare them for the social aspects of college as well as the academic rigors.
The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation has also raised money for scholarships, provided holiday meals to needy families and hosted free football clinics. In fact, Jenkins' first event since signing with the Eagles will be the foundation's third-annual football camp at Piscataway High School in June. The event is free and also includes a voucher for baseline concussion testing.
"Now that I'm here and back in the area, I want to bring something similar to what we have in New Orleans," Jenkins said.
Jenkins' efforts have been recognized by the All-Stars of Giving Challenge, which will award $100,000 to the charity that receives the most votes. Jenkins is in the process of seeing what services are needed in the Philadelphia area before he decides where to devote the foundation's resources.
Malcolm Jenkins' father had a hard time saying no to others. When it comes to lending a helping hand, Malcolm is a mirror image of his father.
"I think it really stems from my father, just seeing him give back to the kids in our neighborhood - signing kids to play Pop Warner, taking us all to practice. He was the one dad in the neighborhood who taught us all to play football, catch and all of that other stuff," Jenkins said. "Naturally, now that I've become a man and have a family of my own, giving back is just something that's kind of been ingrained in me and I just do it naturally. I feel like being blessed so much I have a responsibility to give back and lift those who are coming behind me. It feels good."