The personnel man for the engineering firm didn't understand what Rory Sparrow had written on the Objectives line of his r�sum�. "What do you mean you want to enhance the quality of life?' " he asked Sparrow. "What's that have to do with engineering?"
"It has to do with what I want to do with my life," answered Sparrow, then a senior electrical engineering major at Villanova. "I can't be a good engineer without having that as a primary objective."
The man shook his head in puzzlement. Sparrow wasn't the recruit his firm was looking for.
Although his B.S. degree is in electrical engineering, Sparrow, 29, isn't a practicing engineer—unless one considers the engineering he has done as a 6'2" point guard for four NBA teams since 1980—but he's certainly fulfilling his life's objective. Through the Rory Sparrow Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization that he formed in 1984 while he was a New York Knick, he has enhanced the quality of life for hundreds of high school-age youths in New York City and in his hometown of Paterson, N.J., where the foundation has its headquarters.
Sparrow contributes real time—"He gets personally involved in every program," says Cary Alleyne, the foundation's executive director—and real money, more than $125,000 over the last three years. The foundation's projected budget for this fiscal year is approximately $260,000, with the portion not provided by Sparrow coming from corporate and individual contributors. And although Sparrow was traded by the Knicks to the Chicago Bulls last month, his involvement will continue, albeit with some difficulty.
The foundation sponsors three programs:
1) Leadership Development—This exposes high school students to the workings of government and the corporate system.
2) Career Beginnings—Every year the foundation helps 100 high school juniors find summer jobs. It then matches each student with a mentor from business or government who follows the student's progress through the next school year and helps him or her select and apply to college or find a job after graduation.
3) Summer Athletics—The Rory Sparrow Summer Leagues run competitions in basketball and tennis ( Sparrow's other sports passion) and also offer counseling on drug abuse, nutrition and proper stretching techniques.
No such help was available for Sparrow when he was growing up in Paterson's Alexander Hamilton projects, notoriously bleak low-income housing in one of America's most economically depressed cities. But a number of things helped Sparrow escape the poverty-induced despair that ensnared so many of his friends. His family, though poor, was intact, close and very religious. His father, John, works at a chemical plant and his mother, Claudia, works at a pin factory. Sparrow was not only athletically gifted, he also had a good mind.