Right now, if you walked into the old Bishop McDevitt building, you might feel like you were stepping into a set piece from a Stephen King novel—cracked walls, boarded-up windows, peeling paint and numerous messages stating that so-and-so was here or “RIP.”
But, starting this year, the almost 100-year-old building will begin to transform into an eco-friendly, multi-use property—that is, according to four old friends who collectively call themselves “The Bridge.”
This development company is headed by four guys who have known each other for many years, most since childhood: former NFL player Garry Gilliam Jr., Corey Dupree, DeZwaan “Dez” Dubois and Jordan Hill, another former pro football player.
The goal of the team is to create a complex where community members can eat, work and play, and what better place to start than in their hometown of Harrisburg?
“In a broad sense, we’re trying to create an environment of systematic empowerment, if you will,” said Gilliam. “It’s an environment of learning, fresh food. You can live here, work here, play here. Everything is here in one place.”
The first phase of the proposed “eco-village” is comprised of co-working spaces, which will be on the main floor of the building. According to Dupree, these spaces will keep the classroom-like feel that already exists, including things like chalkboards and whiteboards. The vision is eventually to include sustainable housing, indoor agriculture, an auditorium, a food court and more.
In a sense, the eco-village is almost like an adult version of Milton Hershey School, where Dupree, Gilliam and Dubois all attended. The school had such a tremendous impact on them that they wanted to recreate it and help their hometown community in the process.
Gilliam was only 7 years old when his mother drove him up to Milton Hershey School. They had been living below the poverty line, and he spent his childhood skipping between his mother’s house in Edison Villiage and his grandmother’s house on Susquehanna Street in Harrisburg. He and his mother knew about the school because his cousin went there.
When they arrived, his mother sent Gilliam off to the playground while she signed paperwork. He didn’t know that, soon, Milton Hershey would become his home.
The first few months, he cried every night because he missed his family. Fortunately, Milton Hershey was filled with activities to help distract and support him. Over time, Gilliam got involved in arts, academics and, of course, sports. Eventually, when his mother was more financially stable and ready for him to come home, he didn’t want to leave.
“I didn’t want to leave not just because I had friends, but I knew this was what was best for the family,” he said. “I was a growing boy. I needed a lot of food and an environment that is conducive to success.”
Dupree joined Milton Hershey School around the 9th grade. Though born in Boston, he attended the school thanks to his big brother from the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. Quickly, central Pennsylvania became his home, too.
It took a while for the two to become friends (Dupree swears Gilliam was after his girlfriend), but they started to click and even became roommates during their last year at the school.
Dubois came to Milton Hershey in the fourth grade and joined the football team years later, where he met Gilliam.
Hill grew up seeing Gilliam, Dupree, Dubois and everyone on the Milton Hershey football team as rivals. Unlike the other three, Hill attended Steelton High School, which had an intense rivalry with Milton Hershey.
In fact, the only time Hill said anything positive to Gilliam was during their senior year, after he found out Gilliam was going to Penn State.
“I remember that,” Gilliam said with a smile. “I think he was committed to Rutgers, and he came up to me and said ‘You going to Penn State, huh?’ I was like ‘Yeah,’ and he goes ‘All right.’”
Fast forward a couple of months, and Hill also received an offer to Penn State. He committed and ended up in the same recruitment class as Gilliam. Fast forward a few more years, and they were both on the same NFL team, the Seattle Seahawks.
“Life has kind of brought us together,” Hill said. “We grew up within a five- to 10-mile radius, went to college together and ended up playing professional football on the same team. It’s very rare.”
Bridge We Need
According to Hill, he and Gilliam had a similar mindset. They knew they needed to prepare for life after relatively brief football careers and, concurrently, they wanted to use their fame and money from football to help give back to their community. For them, the eco-village was the perfect starting point.
It didn’t take much for the friends to all agree on creating The Bridge. Dupree, a self-proclaimed comic book nerd, calls his team the Avengers and says each person brings a different specialty to the table. But they also understand that they have one common goal—to help the community.
Instead of deciding what was best to put in the eco-village, they used the hashtag #TheBridgeWeNeed to see what people wanted in their community. Some of the responses were things like community gardens, grocery stores, mental health spaces and even a room for therapy dogs.
The team took in the responses and, around April of last year, began to nail down their plans for the eco-village. Originally, they had their sights set on the old William Penn High School, but the owner, the Harrisburg school district, has not yet responded to their offer. They still hope to secure that building.
The Bridge plans to start renovation of the Bishop McDevitt building this summer. According to Gilliam, Harrisburg is only the pilot model. They plan to expand and create more eco-villages in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit and elsewhere. They already caught the attention of Philadelphia-born rapper Meek Mills via Twitter.
“We’re from here, so I said we have to do it in Harrisburg first,” Gilliam said. “We have to take care of our hometown before we go anywhere else.”
For more information on The Bridge, visit www.thebridgeecovillage.com.