On the basketball court, Juan Adames is a pass-first point guard, always looking to put teammates in the best position to score. He specializes in assists.
Off the court, he’s the same way.
“We want to make a difference,” the 18-year-old Adames said. “We’re near-peer mentors, trying to connect with young kids and give them some knowledge that maybe they wouldn’t get in a school setting.”
Adames said he was inspired to create his foundation when he learned of the shooting death of a young man outside the Houseman recreation center on Summerdale Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia in the summer of 2018.
“I thought, ‘If there had been some place for him to go after school, some safe place, he still would be alive,’" Adames said. "It made me determined to figure out a way to help.”
Adames and others reached out to state Rep. Jared Solomon of Pennsylvania’s 202nd District to start a dialogue and initiate a series of community-service projects.
“This was the first time I had a group of young folks come to me, unprompted, and say they wanted to make their community a better place,” Solomon said. “I’m proud I know them.”
On Friday, June 12, Adames shared lunch and exchanged ideas with officers from the Philadelphia Police’s 2nd District as well as Solomon.
Leaders of Tomorrow hosted a Stop the Violence rally in September that included games and guest speakers and community leaders, including Solomon, Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker, and officers from the 2nd District.
Solomon said Adames and other members of his group were working to improve relations with law enforcement officers long before the killing of George Floyd prompted nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
“I used to hear all the time that young people today don’t want to get involved,” Solomon said. “These young folks want to make a difference.”
In November, the group raised more than $1,000 to buy food to make meals for the Woodstock Family Center. In April, the group joined with Solomon to distribute meals to needy families.
“It’s a humbling experience to give back,” said Zach Anderson, also a recent Germantown Academy graduate and member of Leaders of Tomorrow.
Anderson, who played on the Germantown Academy basketball team with Adames, said his friend discussed his plan to start a foundation while the two were eating lunch in school during their junior year.
“You could just see he had this passion, this desire to get involved,” Anderson said.
Germantown Academy basketball coach Matt Dolan called Adames, the team’s starting point guard as a senior, “our program’s heartbeat” and a mentor to the others.
“We’re not surprised by Juan’s leadership and his vision,” Dolan said in an email. “He is one of our most vocal guys. He has been a role model for our younger group.”
Adames grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, near the intersection of Cottman and Castor Avenues. He was encouraged to attend Germantown Academy by older mentors, including former Villanova star and NBA player Alvin Williams.
Adames said it took him an average of 90 minutes by rail each morning to reach Germantown Academy’s campus in Fort Washington. He would make the same commute home every day.
“It was 100% worth it,” said Adames, who plans to major in premed at Salisbury (Md.) State with the goal of becoming an anesthesiologist.
Anderson, who plans to attend Temple University and major in public health, became one of Adames’ first friends at his new school.
“Juan has this energy that makes him want to get involved,” said Anderson, who lives in Upper Dublin. “He’s not a time waster. The older he gets, the more compassionate he gets, the more loving he gets for other people.”
Adames said his passion for service stems from his appreciation of his father, Juan Adames Sr.
“He fought in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the younger Adames said. “He lost hearing in his right ear but always has been the kind of guy who would mentor my friends, be a father figure for many of them. He always wanted to offer a helping hand.”
Efforts by Leaders of Tomorrow to engage directly with youngsters in Northeast Philadelphia and create community-bonding events have been slowed by the restrictions created by the coronavirus outbreak.
“Hopefully, we’ll be back out there soon,” Adames said. He and the group’s members feel their work is more important than ever, given the demand that has swept the country in recent weeks for a more just and equitable society.
“Young people are being heard,” Adames said. “They’re inspired to try to make things better.