Basketball leads Edgemont lawyer to a different kind of court
BY DEBBIE ANDERS
CHERYL JAY PHOTO
Dexter Gardiner, NBA star Trevor Ruffin of the Phoenix Suns and the Philadelphia 76ers, Jeff Korek and his son Skylar
Jeff Korek is a 51-year-old lawyer with a Scarsdale zip code and a partnership at one of the top firms in the country. Dexter Gardiner is a 42-year-old civic leader and athlete from a rough neighborhood in the South Bronx. Basketball brought them together, but tragedy made them a team.
Korek met Gardiner while playing in a Westchester County basketball league when he learned of an unspeakable tragedy that befell Gardiner and his family. While Gardiner was planning a neighborhood basketball game in memory of his mother and sister who both died in 2006, Gardiner’s twin brother Derrick, while driving to the event from Mississippi, got into an accident on the Bronx River Parkway. He, his niece and two nephews were killed.
Gardiner’s tragic experience not only did not deter him from his goals, but made him all the more determined to provide support for other families who endure devastating loss. Gardiner had raised money for his foundation by literally passing a bucket. He paid for the first two years of memorial basketball tournaments mostly “out of pocket.” And then Korek stepped in. “Jeff took it to another level and developed the tournament on a greater scale. He is trying to give back to the community,” Gardiner told the Inquirer.
“We had been involved in fundraising for breast cancer and Reyes syndrome research, but nothing other than writing checks or supporting people who did 5K and 10K races,” Korek said. “Dex was, in my opinion, an opportunity I couldn’t resist.”
Korek said his firm had already done “a lot of work in the inner city: Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan,” but nothing on the scale of what they do now for the Gardiner Memorial Classic. “We foot the bill for the entire event,” Korek said, which includes contributions from friends of his firm Gersowitz, Libo and Korek. Korek personally raises all money and brings in volunteers. “We fed 3,000 people and pay people to cook,” he said.
The Gardiner Family Foundation is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides funds for burials, memorial plaques and special ceremonies to honor the families struck by devastating loss and cannot afford wakes or traditional sendoffs. It provides opportunities for church pastors to address communities with short sermons.
The foundation also holds a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway and an important community outreach initiative called Tru Talk that Gardiner’s wife Sherri works with, mentoring at-risk men and women, ages 16-29, about peer pressure and issues surrounding drugs and sex.
Gardiner talked about the importance of the event raising money, awareness and civic pride in a low-income neighborhood in the South Bronx. “Some of these families kind of give up. We honor them, ask them to come out and we speak to them and support them through counseling,” he said.
Eight teams from New Jersey, Buffalo and as far away as Mississippi participated at this year’s basketball tournament, held Aug. 17 and 18 in St. James Park in the Bronx. This year, Korek’s efforts in connection with the tournament contributed five $1,500 transitional college scholarships, 18 computer tablets and 150 book bags filled with school supplies, for kids 8-16 years old; refreshments (“We feed everyone who comes into the park,” Korek said), team uniforms, and 13 memorial plaques to honor family members who died.
Guests at the tournament have included Walt Frazier Jr., Bronx assemblymen and borough presidents, police officers and firefighters, and NBA players Ben Gordon and Trevor Ruffin.
Edgemont resident and Bronx native Noel Intner, who “submitted” a team from Edgemont, has also been involved in the foundation. He is passionate about the cause, having grown up in the Bronx and played basketball at St. James Park. “For me it’s a feeling of going back to my roots,” Intner said. “Through the efforts of Jeff Korek and his law firm, the annual event has turned into not just a basketball tournament but a weekend in August, that not only does the Bronx community look forward to but also individuals like myself — who are fortunate to live in Edgemont.” Intner said members of the Edgemont community continue to make donations to the foundation and attend the classic and that many know Gardiner as a result of Jeff’s introductions over the years. For last year’s Thanksgiving turkey giveaway, the foundation distributed 400 turkeys to needy or homebound families. The Koreks, who have lived in Edgemont for 15 years, have made community outreach their own family affair. Korek’s wife Jolie has participated in a designer showcase to raise funds for cancer research, and children Cydney (Edgemont High School class of ’10) and Skylar (EHS class of ’13) and their friends, Edgemont graduates Matt McCormack, Austin Doukas and Oliver Oks, have helped distribute the turkeys from the truck in the Bronx. When asked what he had learned from his involvement with the Gardiner Foundation, Korek, who won a large settlement by representing a nephew of Gardiner’s who survived the crash, replied, “I learned you always feel that what you do is not enough, but when you start doing it, it’s overwhelming how doing a little can mean so much. I wish more of our contemporaries would give back.”
For more information about the Basketball Classic, the Gardiner Foundation, or to make a contribution, visit thegardinerfoundation.org.