Charlie Manuel did not grow up homeless in rural Virginia, but he was the oldest of 11 siblings living in a cramped home that often had three children stuffed in a bed.
“We had some poor times,” Manuel said.
Manuel played junior-high basketball in bare feet because his family could not afford sneakers, but he overcame his humble beginnings to reach the major leagues and eventually manage the Phillies to a World Series title. And perhaps it was his Virginia roots that pushed the former Phillies manager a decade ago to approach Raul Ibañez before a game while the outfielder entertained a group of children during batting practice.
“What in the world are you doing?” Manuel asked.
The children, Ibañez explained, were from Covenant House, a homeless shelter in Germantown that serves more than 3,000 youth every year. Ibañez hosted them throughout the season at Citizens Bank Park, providing tickets, a meal, and a pregame peek at Manuel’s Phillies.
When Ibañez left after the 2011 season, he mentioned during a phone call with Manuel how much he missed working with the kids from Covenant House. So Manuel, whose childhood allowed him to feel a connection to the group, decided to keep Ibañez’s work going. He visited Covenant House with his wife, Missy; hosted the children at games, brought them to batting practice, and filled them with Bull’s BBQ.
And later this month, his work will bring a new challenge. Manuel and fellow Phillies great Larry Bowa, whom Manuel recruited earlier this year to work with Covenant House, will sleep outside in Center City on Nov. 21 with a team of Phillies executives to raise funds for and awareness of homeless youth.
“I can definitely relate to that. If I can help someone from sleeping on the streets who comes from a broken home or doesn't have parents, that’s touching to me,” Manuel said. “If a kid can get a chance and make something of their life and enjoy themselves, then it’s well worth it.
Covenant House, which has locations throughout North and South America, is dedicated to helping young people in desperate situations aged 21 and younger. Its goal is to “help young people facing homelessness become healthy, happy, responsible, productive, and independent adults.”
The shelter is open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, striving to never turn anyone away and offering safety, food, clean clothes, medical care, and a “whole program of transformative change and an opportunity to move their lives forward.”
“It’s eye-opening. That’s what it is,” Bowa said. “The sad thing about it is that the kids are there and they’re just a victim of circumstance. Whether it’s through their family or whatever happened, they really had no chance at all. But we can reach out and help these kids. They’re good kids. They were just dealt a tough hand.”
Manuel and Bowa, both of whom are senior advisers to Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, hosted groups from Covenant House once a month during the season. The youths wore T-shirts with caricatures of Manuel and Bowa waving the World Series pennants they won with the Phillies. They were introduced to the current team, ate lunch in the ballpark, and then watched the game from a suite.
“Sometimes we get caught up in our own little world by being in the big leagues and it’s a great life,” Bowa said. “Sometimes you have to take a step back and look around and see that not everyone is as fortunate as you were. If we can improve their lives a little bit, whether it be clothing or donations, just let them know that people care about them.”
The funds raised from the Sleep Out event — which Covenant House says is not about pretending to be homeless but instead an act of solidarity with the 4.2 million young people who experience homelessness each year — are integral to keeping Covenant House open. Manuel and Bowa are accepting donations here.
“If it snows, we have to gut it up. It’s like going through an 0-for-30 slump. You just keep battling,” Bowa said. “I’ve tried looking at the big forecast. I’m sure it’s going to be cold, but it will be fun.”
“At first, I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know if I want to do that.’ But then I started thinking about the purpose of it and what it was for,” Manuel said. “If it can help, then why wouldn’t I do it? To me, it wouldn’t be that hard.”