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Rose Minutaglio
September 27, 2016 11:00 AM

Jesse Palmer, the former NFL quarterback and The Bachelor‘s first professional athlete, is giving back in a big way.

The sports commentator and Good Morning America special contributor has teamed up with Good Sports – a national nonprofit that provides athletic gear, apparel and sportswear to children in need – to hand out recess equipment to 100 public schools in New York City.

“Believe it or not, I was shy as a young kid and didn’t make friends very easily. I wasn’t social in class and recess was a natural arena for me,” Palmer, 37, tells PEOPLE. “Sports provided a platform to engage and interact with kids and I ended up becoming best friends with my teammates, still am!”

Palmer, through Good Sports, hopes to spread the message that youth sports are integral to a well-rounded childhood. The organization, through an initiative with the New York City Department of Education, will give $100,000 to schools throughout the five boroughs.

“Sports developed my social skills, teamwork, sportsmanship,” he says. “Sports gave me confidence to pursue my dreams.”

Jesse Palmer plays with students at Lexington Academy
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

On Monday, Palmer met with children from New York’s Lexington Academy to distribute scrimmage pennies, balls and jump ropes during a physical education class.

“Seeing the impact new equipment has not only on kids, but on teachers, it’s great,” he says. “There’s budget constraints – a lot of schools only give like $700 a year for new equipment and sometimes none at all – but [physical education] is a big part of the curriculum.”

And the former reality star would like the initiative to spread to other cities.

“We are working in New York right now, but I hope to get involved on the national level,” he says. “There are millions of kids that don’t have the opportunity to get involved in sports because of budget cuts.

“Let’s change that.”

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