U.S. Olympic track star Ajee Wilson is using the pandemic to get a head start on Philly homeownership
The 800-meter American record holder was looking for help in buying her first home, so she signed up with Jumpstart Germantown. And she got a whole lot more.
Ajee Wilson had hoped to spend late July and early August at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, competing in the 800-meter run, for which she is currently the American indoor and outdoor record-holder. Then came COVID-19, which canceled the qualifying trials and postponed the Games until the summer of 2021.
Disappointed but undaunted, Wilson — who finished 12th in the 800 at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — has been using her free time to focus on three other things:
Continuing her training with coach Derek Thompson and the Juventus Track Club at various locations around Philadelphia, where she lives in West Oak Lane. Helping out at the Sankofa Healing Studio, a Philly-based nonprofit that addresses trauma associated with mass incarceration.
And buying a home.
Wilson is one of five children born of parents who themselves come from large, close families. Her father, Zachary, is one of 15 brothers and sisters. Her mother, Tonya, is one of five siblings. For Wilson, the allure of owning a home is that it is the “hub” of family life.
“People are connected to space, and it’s important that those spaces feel like a home,” said Wilson, who grew up in Neptune, N.J., and graduated from Temple University in 2016 with a degree in kinesiology. “They are important to the development of people, especially kids.”
So Wilson, 26, is eager to put down her own roots, in Philly. After searching for a year and a half with Shanna Adderley of Elfant Wissahickon Realtors, she signed up with Jumpstart Germantown to learn how to navigate the complicated world of real estate ownership and development.
Created in 2015 by Philadelphia entrepreneur and real estate developer Ken Weinstein, Jumpstart Germantown is a development program with a mission to revitalize the community through training, mentoring, networking, and providing financial resources to local aspiring developers.
Jumpstart focuses on teaching participants how to find, finance, customize, and own, sell, and rent real estate in the 3.3 square miles that comprise Germantown in Northwest Philadelphia.
“I was looking for a base of knowledge, a framework, what to look out for,” said Wilson.
But more than that — and this is what appeals not just to Wilson but others in the program — Weinstein requires Jumpstart participants to “be committed to blight removal, creating more quality, affordable housing, and making Germantown a better place to live, work, and enjoy.”
“That’s what drew me to it,” said Wilson, who currently rents a place in West Oak Lane but hopes to settle on her first house in Germantown in January. The Jumpstart program, she said, is “not all about making money. It stresses both the importance of our homes and giving back to the community.”
Weinstein has a long and decorated history of community-based development and service in Philadelphia. He’s president of Philly Office Retail, cofounder of the Mount Airy Business Improvement District, and chairman of the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation.
He worked as chief of staff to Councilwoman Happy Fernandez in the 1990s, created several civic organizations, and founded the Trolley Car Diner, Deli and Ice Cream Shoppe in Mount Airy (now closed), and the Trolley Car Cafe in East Falls. He also has a list of awards and commendations on his resume nearly as long as the Broad Street Run.
For Weinstein, Wilson is a perfect fit for Jumpstart Germantown.
“I’ve met a lot of interesting people, but she caught my attention,” said Weinstein, who has 970 graduates of the program. “She has a strong work regimen. She has a good head on her shoulders, and she seems grounded.”
That grounding may be partly because Wilson’s younger sister, Brietta, is already a development entrepreneur in New Jersey, and her father, uncle, and grandfather were talented home renovators.
“I say she is a three-fer,” Weinstein said. “As a great runner, she is goal-oriented. She is committed to improving the community, and she wants to own her first home.”
Wilson heard about Jumpstart Germantown in June through the father of a track teammate, and Ibraheim Campbell, a graduate of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and a safety for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. She signed up for Jumpstart’s 12 hours of instruction (online only, during the pandemic) and completed the course in October.
Jumpstart Germantown is affiliated with Weinstein’s Philly Office Retail, and those whose applications are accepted pay a $100 fee, of which at least $80 is donated to a local nonprofit, Weinstein said. Upon completion, graduates are paired with an experienced mentor “to guide them through their next development projects.”
Weinstein has volunteered to be Wilson’s mentor.
’’She is exactly who we look for,” he said. “She definitely has the skill set to be successful, and she had a strong idea of where she is going.”
And where is Wilson going?
“I thought I’d be a Jersey girl forever,” said Wilson, with a little laugh about her proud Neptune roots. “But now I call Philly home.“