When he was younger, Raheem Islam’s father told him, “Approach everything with the same tenacity you approach sports with, and you will be just as successful in life as you are in sports.” In sports, Raheem played basketball at Central High School in Philadelphia and went on to become captain of the West Chester University Men’s Basketball Team in college. However, his tenacity and passion for cooking has led him to build Dr. Jerkinstein, a catering service used by Philadelphia Youth Basketball for all of their programming and special events.
Raheem started in the food industry when he was just 14 years old. Raheem did not consider the idea of starting a catering business until one day when a casual cookout turned into a community feast. What started as Raheem cooking for ten friends in his home, quickly turned into a line of approximately 75 friends and neighbors lined up to taste some of Raheem’s specialties. “That is when I knew I wanted to follow my heart and pursue a career in food services, which would later become his own business, Dr. Jerkinstein Grocery Store and Catering.”
As the catering service for all of PYB’s programs, Raheem has a special task of providing good food to our student athletes. When asked about serving PYB’s student athletes, Raheem remarked, “I try to give kids the food they wouldn’t normally get at home. I also try to make sure they’re getting the right caloric intake while avoiding foods high in cholesterol, artificial sugars, and other unhealthy ingredients.”
Raheem’s mission extends beyond providing wholesome meals to the student athletes. Raheem also educated the student athletes on nutrition to help them understand the importance of taking proper care of their body in a holistic manner. Raheem likes to teach the kids to stay out of the middle aisles at the grocery store and shop for more fresh fruits and vegetables. He offers healthy options every day such as green beans or cabbage, and the kids love them. Raheem loves to tell a tale about eating cake. He says that if cake is something you like then you can eat it every day. However, instead of buying cake to eat, try baking that cake every day instead. Eventually you won’t want to take the time to do it, or you’ll at least know all of the ingredients that go into it and will make it healthier than a store-bought cake.
“Nutrition is so important to me because I believe that you do better when you know better. Sometimes with low-income families, our parents mean well but they don’t necessarily get the most healthy food.”
Not only is Raheem an integral part of the PYB team, his ties to the organization extend all the way back to 1993 when he attended Central High School with Eric Worley, PYB’s Program Director and Co-founder. During a high school tryout, the Central coach kept calling Raheem “E”, which was Eric’s nickname before he graduated the year earlier. That nickname stuck with Raheem throughout college after he followed Eric’s path to West Chester. “I was called Baby E my entire career at West Chester, and now Eric is my main man.”
Raheem’s favorite part of working with PYB is being able to tell when he has made an impact on the student athletes he serves. With five kids at home, Raheem knows all the tricks. “I can tell by seeing all the empty plates and seeing no food go to waste in the trash.” Everyone that has tried Raheem’s food either student athletes at camp, or guests at PYB’s special events, always clear their plates! Eric confirms that sentiment: “One of the things PYB’s kids speak about most is the food on Saturdays at our Middle School Partnership program. For two years Raheem’s BBQ wings have made the kids go absolutely crazy.” PYB’s Community Mobilization Coordinator, Mary Kate O’Brien, not only loves Raheem’s food but can really tell he cares because, “He always sets food aside for me to accommodate my dietary restrictions as a vegetarian. Also, when I host an event and don’t have time to eat, he makes plates for me to go, which means so much to me!”
Like basketball, Raheem relies a lot on his kitchen and serving team in order to win at the game of cooking. In fact, Raheem draws a lot of comparisons between catering and basketball. “Sports teach you that you need to have a strong team and can’t do everything by yourself. It’s the same with catering. Also, in catering, like in basketball, we have a gameplan that we need to execute. For us, winning is providing excellent food and great service.” Sports has also taught Raheem that he needs to be able to play a lot of different roles, and that has helped him in the kitchen. “At West Chester I was team captain, but I only played 11 minutes a game, so I needed to figure out how to lead in a lot of other ways.” Knowing how to be a leader has aided Raheem tremendously in the catering world, and he must be a leader for his staff every day. Like Raheem says, “I can’t do anything without my team,” and he is a big part of our team at Philadelphia Youth Basketball.
By Harris Edelman, Corporate Intern