BY JEFF FALK
Some Photos Submitted
It’s one thing to rectify a mistake. It’s another thing to pay a debt to society.
But it’s a whole other thing to assure others don’t make the same mistakes you did.
Charles Jackson, Jr. and Chad Thierwechter are turning their lives around. Theirs is a powerful story of redemption, one that possesses a certain ability to restore faith in humanity.
From the inside of a prison cell at a state penitentiary, Thierwechter and Jackson have experienced rock bottom. Now, they’re on a mission to positively affect the developmental years of at-risk youth in the city of Lebanon.
Jackson and Thierwechter are the co-owners of C-Jay’s Drip, located in downtown Lebanon at 539 Cumberland Street, and one of the few brick-and-mortar sneaker shops in Lebanon County. But Jordans, fashionable clothing and fragrances are merely a front.
What Thierwechter and Jackson really deal in is compassion and wisdom and hope.
“They are going to make mistakes,” said Thierwechter of modern youth. “But if we give up, how do we know we can’t save just that one person? You never know what can save the trajectory of one kid’s life. Some of these kids are going to be lost. But I’ve seen people change their lives for the better.”
“A lot of things are happening in our city, and no one is stepping up to stop it,” said Jackson. “It hurts me that kids aren’t getting a chance. I want to bring awareness to my community and get my community involved.”
Thanks in part to their backgrounds in sports, Jackson and Thierwechter have known each other for years, and their lives have followed parallel paths, including the selling drugs on the street. They opened C-Jay’s Drip in May of 2022, not too long after Jackson had been released from prison for the third time.
In those nine months, Thierwechter and Jackson have sold enough sneakers to make a living. But during that time, they’ve also given away 30-35 pairs of sneakers – to the Lebanon Rescue Mission, to veterans, to on-line charities and to Lebanon High School students.
“Sometimes, you can’t help see someone who needs something,” said Jackson, a 39-year-old resident of Lebanon. “It makes them feel good and it makes me feel good. We’re just trying to have a good outlook on the community. We do a lot of positives. We’re not just seeking money.”
“We try to focus on people who need them (sneakers), not who want them,” said Thierwechter,a 38-year-old resident of Lebanon. “We’re in business to make money. But we don’t have to be rich. The more I give back, the more I’ll be satisfied. As long as I can give back, I’m going to. Every single time you give back, it’s going to come full circle. It goes a long way.”
In their own way, Jackson and Thierwechter are imparting financial benefits and the actions of positive male role models on to their community. Some things both lacked growing up in Lebanon.
From 2004 to 2022, Jackson served three different sentences at the State Correctional Institution, Graterford, for selling drugs. He still bears a scar on his neck from the near-lethal cut he sustained while walking to the prison ‘chow’ one day.
Thierwechter spent two years in the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill for selling marijuana, before being released in 2015. One of Thierwechter’s brothers was killed as a result of gun violence, and another went to prison for a gun-related crime that resulted in death.
“At first, it was very scary. There was a sense of loneliness,” said Thierwechter. “It was dark. When you’re there, you understand why they build prisons. When I was there, I saw things. It was a reality check. I’m so thankful I went to prison. I was on a path of destruction. I think God saved my life. I was either going to go to prison or get killed myself. Prison made me a better person.”
“I was just trying to make it home, so I stayed to myself,” said Jackson. “Being in jail, you have a lot of time to reflect on yourself. I almost got killed in jail, and I figured enough is enough. It kind of changed me. I was addicted to the lifestyle of selling. As a youth, I looked up to the drug dealers. They had the cars. They had the clothes. They had the girls.”
At first, Jackson and Thierwechter initiated their mission by informally helping local youth where and when they could, sometimes when they were visited at C-Jay’s. But recently, they took more decisive actions, meeting with administrators and at-risk youth at Lebanon High School.
The next step is to institute an incentive program designed to provide at-risk kids positive reinforcement for becoming involved in sports, getting good grades and becoming more active in socially-responsible activities. Jackson and Thierwcechter even went as far as providing some of the kids with their personal phone numbers.
“We need more leaders and less followers in our community,” said Jackson. “When I was in middle school, I was already going to the high school for in-school suspension. The teachers were already familiar with me. They sat me down and asked me, ‘How can I make my classroom work for you?’ A lot of teachers tried to help me. As someone who was helped, I want to help. Education is important.”
“We told them some of our back stories, so they don’t have to go down our path,” said Thierwechter. “We encouraged them to do the same thing with their peers. We want this to be a snowball effect. What we want to see is improvement every day. At the end of the day, what school is doing is preparing you for the real world. These are life lessons.”
While Thierwechter and Jackson’s mission is purely and intentionally philanthropic, it is has also evolved into something quite accidentally cathartic. They are becoming better people by helping others become better people.
“I lost a brother to the streets and I had a brother kill someone in the streets,” said Thierwechter. “I said to them (Lebanon High School students), ‘I know what you’re going through.’ I did sell drugs. I did go to prison. I think we’re going to see positive change, but it’s only going to happen through action.”
“We’re trying to use our platform for selling shoes to change our community,” said Jackson. “We want to help kids walk a different path, through the shop. It’s just a good turnaround.”
Changing their little piece of the world one young life, one pair of sneakers, at a time.
February 4, 2023 at 1:00 am
Congratulations to Jackson and Thierwechter. I applaud what you’re doing. You’re making a difference to turn lost souls into productive, happy people.