HARLEM — Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira traveled to Harlem Tuesday to deliver a $125,000 check from Walmart to help the youth development organization Harlem RBI fund summer jobs for dozens of teens.
It prompted Teixeira to reminisce about his first job working as an umpire and referee many years ago.
"It taught me how to work with kids and adults," Teixeira said about his first job as a 15-year-old umpire in a Baltimore baseball youth league.
"The lessons you guys are learning right now and all the great skills you are learning at Harlem RBI and in your community you're going to use later in life. Don't take this opportunity for granted. It's very important to have a summer job. It's a great opportunity to learn."
Of the $125,000 grant, $75,000 is being used to fund the youth jobs program. The teens are working as umpires, coaches, grounds crew and teachers in Harlem RBI's summer baseball program.
The remaining $50,000 will go to support operations at Harlem RBI's DREAM Charter School which opened in 2008. Teixeira has donated $1 million and pledged to raise another $9 million to the school's effort to build an $85 million charter school project that includes a park renovation, new headquarters for the group and 90 units of affordable rental housing on what is now a parking lot at the New York City Housing Authority's Washington Houses in East Harlem.
Walmart, which is seeking to open its first store in New York City, has faced criticism for its donations to area charities. Opposition groups who oppose Walmart labor practices accuse the mega retailer of trying to buy good will.
East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, a strong Harlem RBI supporter, has also vigorously opposed Walmart's plans.
"Walmart is definitely not welcome in New York City," Mark-Viverito said during a February council hearing. "It is a union-busting, tax-evading, wage-suppressing, job-destroying, civil rights-abusing, food stamp-denying, multinational corporation that has no place in New York City."
Mark-Viverito declined to comment on Walmart's Harlem RBI donation Tuesday, saying she wanted to get more information.
Philip Serghini, director of community affairs for Walmart dismissed criticisms of the retailer's charitable efforts.
"We've made no secret that we want to be part of New York City and we want to be part of the community. One way to do that for any corporation is to meet with, get to know and ultimately make donations to charities that are important locally," Serghini said.
Teixeira says he approached Walmart about the donation earlier this year and was "thankful" for their partnership. After meeting with Teixeira and his wife in February and then meeting with Harlem RBI Executive Director Rich Berlin, Serghini said his company was impressed.
"The key thing for us is are they good charities and actually really helping people. That's why we are so excited to be part of this one," Serghini said.
Berlin said Walmart's support comes at a time when "public funding for summer programs is all too scarce." Harlem RBI currently provides services for more than 1,000 young people
"Walmart's support not only helps to provide Harlem RBI youth with great opportunities, but it also ensures that they can serve as mentors and role models for their peers while learning basic job skills, building a strong work ethic and preparing them for future employment," Berlin said.
The Harlem RBI youth workers peppered Teixeira with questions about his first job and his approach to everything from switch hitting to the hardest part of being a professional baseball player. He emphasized how he chose college over being drafted right out of high school and the importance of taking "small steps," and setting "small goals" toward attaining larger ones.
Brandi McGrier, 15, a 10th grader at Frederick Douglass Academy who is working her first job as an umpire at Harlem RBI said it was nice to have a say in how she spent the money she earned. Plans for her summer earnings include having a little fun but also saving up to by school uniforms for the coming academic year.
Hearing that a star Yankees player once did the same jobs she did was also exciting.
"It's nice to know that he was where we are, doing the same thing, and that you can make it," McGrier said.