It has been nearly one year since Zurrell Toney joined the Philadelphia Police Athletic League (PAL) as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Zurrell has a unique connection to both PAL and AmeriCorps and knows firsthand how valuable they can be, because they were a vital part of his teenage years growing up in Philadelphia. Zurrell faced adversities early in life, and dropped out of high school before he could graduate. It was during his attendance at the alternative school YouthBuild that Zurrell learned about AmeriCorps. He became a member through one of the service projects offered and completed 900 service hours before graduating at the top of his class and being named Valedictorian.
As Zurrell continued his higher education, he spent time at West Chester University, but it was during his time at Temple University that he discovered his passion of working in the field of sports and leadership. Being accepted to Temple University was a significant milestone for Zurrell. “It gave life back to the idea of getting an education for me,” he shared. He made it his goal to take advantage of every opportunity available to him.
As a Sport and Recreation Management major, Zurrell took a course that allowed him to participate in a recreation program that, coincidentally, reconnected him with the PAL in Philadelphia that he had grown up in. Through Up2Us Sports, he was able to sign on as an AmeriCorps VISTA and begin working at the PAL as a Capacity Building Associate. His leadership of several key initiatives has positioned the organization to provide greater opportunities for young people to take on leadership within the organization and established a continuum of connection from PAL member to alumni status. He has demonstrated a strong understanding of the value and potential for the alumni program to strengthen multiple areas of the organization, especially fundraising.
In a sense, Zurrell has come full circle with PAL and is able to connect on a personal level with the participants, because he was once in their place. He strives to be a role model for the youth and hopes they view his personal success and achievements as motivation to excel in their own lives. When asked about the best part of being involved with this organization, Zurrell describes the personal connection he is able to develop with the kids: “giving back and helping kids in the neighborhood is the best— because those kids used to be me.”
Zurrell attributes much of his success today to the support system that he had as a participant in the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Zurrell is grateful to provide a mentor relationship to the youth of Philadelphia, and is thankful for the opportunity to give back to an organization that he was part of as a child.
“With the passion I bring, I intend to not only become an asset but also the person that’ll help (an organization) move forward and adapt to the changing needs of our most valuable youth.”
**Special note: After the completion of his VISTA term on November 21, Zurrell will begin a full-time position with the Columbia North YMCA in downtown Philadelphia.
Thanks to Haley Word, a volunteer through our partnership with Humana for helping us compose this inspiring story.