Cortes, Yanks inspired by stories of NYPD-mentored youth

July 12th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Nestor Cortes sat in the front row of an auditorium at the New York Police Department Academy on Tuesday morning, intently listening as a succession of teenagers spoke about the value of mentorship programs and how athletic participation had helped keep them out of trouble.

Cortes nodded at several junctures, the stories seeming to strike a chord with the All-Star Yankees left-hander. The area code tattooed on his forearm may be Miami’s 305, not a New York 212 or 718, but the stories sounded familiar to Cortes. Especially in an urban setting, the battle of sports against the streets is universally understood.

“It shook me a little bit, because I was able to relate to them,” Cortes said. “Not at their level, but growing up in Miami, you can definitely take a lot of different routes growing up down there. Luckily I was able to surround myself with good people, like they’re surrounded by today. This group serves the community well.”

The Yankees continued HOPE Week on Tuesday by honoring Blue Chips, a NYPD co-ed youth mentoring and sports program that focuses on bridging the gap between police officers and young people throughout New York City, using sports and education to create safe and cohesive avenues for young individuals to create stronger bonds with department members.

Yankees spokesperson Jason Zillo said the organization learned about Blue Chips via a viral video starring Gabriel Jarvis, a Blue Chips participant. In the video -- which was retweeted by the @yankees account on Tuesday to its more than 3.6 million followers -- Jarvis explains how the mentorship of Lt. Michael Almonte helped build a better future.

“I was headed down the wrong path,” Jarvis said. “With the help of Lieutenant Mike and others, I was able to turn my life around … Underneath my braids, there’s a scholar who has been on the honor roll for two consecutive years. I would like to express to you not to judge a book by its cover.”

A graduating senior at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Jarvis is recently received 11 college acceptances and will be attending St. Peter’s University next fall with more than $100,000 in grants and scholarships.

Almonte said that it has been a “dream come true” to help create the Blue Chips program, which has now been expanded citywide to serve youth between the ages of 12 and 17.

Participants play sports like basketball, flag football and softball, as well as other activities like drama clubs and book clubs. The program also invites guest speakers to cover subjects such as financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

“We all know what’s gone on in society the last few years, so to have a program like this, it is a positive,” said Yankees third-base coach Luis Rojas. “The results are right here in front of our eyes, and you can see it in real testimonies that we heard today. I was very touched about it. I’m grateful that I was here today and was able to witness it.”

Also attending Tuesday’s event were Yankees relievers Albert Abreu, Miguel Castro, Ron Marinaccio and J.P. Sears.

“Before we were under the lights playing at Yankee Stadium, a lot of us took different paths to get here,” Cortes said. “I think it’s important for us to realize what everybody goes through every single day. Coming out to these events makes us realize how fortunate we are.”