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Eagles Youth Partnership's Dennis helps and is helped

The cardboard box had the name "Asomugha" written on it and was once filled with footballs for the Eagles defensive back to sign, but it was now filled with shoes. Korinne Dennis, 22, loves her shoes, and this was moving day.

This story has been corrected from the original version.

The cardboard box had the name "Asomugha" written on it and was once filled with footballs for the Eagles defensive back to sign, but it was now filled with shoes. Korinne Dennis, 22, loves her shoes, and this was moving day.

Dennis cleaned out the bedroom she still shared with her brother, including her favorite pillow, but left him the autographed footballs and photos. She can get plenty more in her job as program coordinator with the Eagles Youth Partnership.

She sighed, as if to say goodbye to her room, and really to a life too few get to leave behind, and padlocked the bedroom door.

It was that kind of neighborhood, that kind of childhood.

Dennis moved 14 to 16 times - she'd lost count - by the time she graduated from Lincoln High School.

But this time was different.

She was not only moving out Wednesday morning - but up, on to a new life, and into her own apartment in South Philadelphia, a firm step into a beautiful future.

The Eagles last week won an international award as sports team of the year for their commitment to community service. There is perhaps no better symbol of that service than the opportunity they gave Korinne Dennis.

Dennis' relationship with the Eagles really began in second grade at Smedley Elementary in Frankford. A new program had been started to encourage reading - The 100 Book Challenge - and the Eagles Youth Partnership soon supported it and funded it.

Dennis didn't have books in her home. She received a starter pack of books and kept getting more from the library, trying to reach 100. She remembers getting pizza coupons because she read so much, and remains a voracious reader today.

Her father, in addition to being a Dallas Cowboys fan, was largely absent in her life - though he has reappeared more lately. And her mother, let's just say, wasn't the best role model.

"Don't do as I do," Wendy Umbra, 41, Dennis' mother, still tells her. "Do one better."

Dennis did way better. She ignored distractions of the street, and other dangers from all around. Mother and grandmother say they knew Dennis would be the family's first in college.

They had big doubts about Dennis' childhood dream to become the first female quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"She's got long arms," said her mother, "a really long reach. I didn't know how far she was going to go with that. She left it alone, thankfully."

Dennis needed a long reach to climb out of one life and into another.

Many helped along the way.

Pauline Abernathy was at the Pew Charitable Trusts when she volunteered with Philadelphia Futures to mentor Dennis in high school.

She introduced Dennis to many things, took her to her first book store.

"I believed in her, and had high expectations for her which she continually surpassed," Abernathy said.

"She's like a second mother to me," said Dennis, "the greatest woman I've ever met."

And then there is Sarah Martinez-Helfman, executive director of the Eagles Youth Partnership, the nonprofit arm of the football team.

The Eagles operate an eyemobile and bookmobile, providing glasses to thousands of city children every year and books to tens of thousands. Five years ago, Martinez-Helfman needed part-time help with data input, sending prescriptions for new glasses from the eyemobile to the lab.

"If we're about access and investing in the community," Martinez-Helfman said, "why not get someone from a challenging background."

She approached Philadelphia Futures, and they recommended Dennis, a freshman at Temple University.

"We gave her a chance," said Martinez-Helfman. "She doesn't make the same mistake twice. She's grateful for every opportunity. She's strong, resilient, bright, capable. She cares for the people we're serving. She's going to be a star."

Martinez-Helfman offered Dennis a full-time program coordinator job in May - actual health insurance, a 401(k), a cubicle - on one condition.

Dennis needed one more class - physics, no less - to receive her Temple degree.

She had to get it.

So this fall, working full time, Dennis took introduction to general physics, part two: wave properties of light, radiation.

Wednesday was moving day into her new apartment, but she wouldn't sleep much that first night. Her final exam was Thursday.

The Eagles Youth Partnership has sponsors, like Sovereign Bank, who donate money to support its programs. Jeffrey and Christina Lurie, owners of the Eagles, host a dinner annually for sponsors.

At this year's dinner, Dennis met David Swoyer, regional executive for Sovereign Bank, and urged him to come see the bookmobile in action. She was so upbeat and delightful that he agreed, but getting him to find the time was another matter.

She e-mailed, called, and stayed on him, and Monday he came to Global Leadership Academy, a charter school in West Philadelphia.

"All your enthusiasm convinced me I had to come," he told her.

And later, after spending the morning, he added: "Seeing it come alive is so different. You know, it's easy now in this economy for companies to say no. But how can I not say we gotta do this?"

Swoyer watched Storybook Man - in Eagles jersey and cape - read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (the wolf's version) in a second-grade class.

Swoyer was impressed with the enthusiasm of Storybook Man, and by the reactions and excitement of the kids. Teacher Michael Rombola then had his class read to the visitors, and that, too, was impressive. The Eagles also gave each child a new book, and Swoyer couldn't help but feel hopeful seeing children so excited to pick one out.

Dennis presented Swoyer with letters past students had written to Sovereign Bank, thanking them. Dennis has received letters herself, and her mom's favorite begins: "Dear Korinne, Thank you for coming. You were so polite."

The best letter, however, is on Martinez-Helfman's office door. From a third grader:

"Dear Eagles Storybook Man,

"Thank you for reading to us. I'd rather read than do drugs. Thanks to you!"

Dennis relates to these children because only yesterday she was one of them.

"I order those glasses," she said. "I make sure these kids can see. I've been wearing glasses full time since fourth grade. I would take them off and hide them to prevent myself from being bullied. When I'm in the eyemobile I talk to the kids about that."

Dennis had borrowed a car from a friend and after she loaded it on Wednesday, she drove with her mother to her new apartment. Her mom wanted to see it. When she walked in, her mother truly couldn't believe how beautiful it was. She had never lived in a place so new, so clean.

"This is adorable, adorable," her mother said.

And it was.

Dennis opened her arms wide and spun across the still-unfurnished living room, on the beautiful new Ikea faux wood floor, next to the stunning interior wall of exposed brick. Sunlight poured in the front window.

Dennis sang out, "And it's all mine!"

She did study most of the night, took the physics exam, and thought it went well. In truth, she'd be happy with a C. "At this point, I just want to get it over."