Within the first year of moving to the first state, our paths crossed with Stu Sherman. That’s how long Buffalo Wild Wings has been committed to what this organization does. On October 1st, our sports bars began our annual drive of raising money to fulfill the needs of the kids they serve along with other Nonprofits like them. Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit with Stu, Amber Hickman, the Executive Director of the Greater Newark Boys & Girls Club and, of course, Mr. Bernard, who heads up “The Club” for teenagers.
The work that they are doing to serve their communities is nothing short of phenomenal. They are committed to providing a safe place for youth to learn, grow, and to reach their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens. One of our own, Ting Ting Tiao, Multi-Unit Manager for our northern sports bars serves on the Board of Directors for this same club.
It is not glamorous. It is not easy. So, I asked Stu, “Why do you serve?”
When I was in 3rd grade, our class went on a field trip to the Smithsonian in Washington DC. The day before the trip, our teacher went around the class and asked us to pick our “trip buddy” – the classmate we would be paired with throughout the day. For some reason, she picked me first…and I chose Gerald. As I announced his name, the class let out a collective gasp. My best friend yelled at me, “What are you doing? Are you crazy?”. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know why I picked Gerald. It was a spontaneous decision, but I never wavered even as my classmates were laughing at me. I told them all that Gerald was my friend (even though he really wasn’t’) and I wanted to go on the field trip with him.
So, to borrow a line from Adam Sandler’s “Big Daddy” movie…Gerald was the smelly kid in class. He really did smell bad. He didn’t talk to anybody, couldn’t read and wore the same clothes every day. It didn’t occur to me in third grade but, knowing what I know now – I’m sure he was homeless. But it was a done deal – Gerald was going to be my guy for the big trip! The day of the trip came, and I was totally caught off guard by Gerald as he walked in the class. He was wearing a suit! I heard the snickers of the class as the suit was plaid (ugh), was very dirty and his pants ended at least 4-5 inches above his ankles. Nobody would ever wear a suit (much less this suit) on a field trip…yet here he was. And as he came to stand next to me…yes…the suit was really, really smelly. But there was something very different about Gerald on this day. He stood taller, he had a smile on his face, and he had a beam about him that was very noticeable. As we went around DC that day, this was not the same Gerald. Although I hated the smell, I felt really proud because I knew I had something to do with his pride. The teacher put us in the front of the line throughout the day, and Gerald giggled every time she did. Here was Gerald at the front of the line…with a buddy…in Washington DC…wearing a suit. I could see it in his face – it doesn’t get any better than this. The day ended and as we went home, Gerald said to me, “This was the best day”. I’ll never forget it. The next week, Gerald didn’t come to school, and I never saw him again. I heard through the grapevine of an awful thing that happened to him and his family. Given what I heard and know, he didn’t live much longer past the field trip. While I don’t know exactly what happened – I do know this…on this one day, Gerald had a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, a sense of usefulness and his self-esteem was at a level it had never been before. And even though we’re “just” talking about a third-grade field trip, it was one of my proudest days, too. Little did I know that my proudest day at the time would become my life’s calling.
I’ve been with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware for 28 years. I’m so proud to have helped tens of thousands of kids. I’ve been here so long, that now I’m helping the kids of my kids. While it does make me feel old, I love it every time one of my Club kids (now adults) introduces their kids to me and tells me how much The Club meant to them. And yes, I’ve helped the Gerald’s of the world. I want to help all kids – but as long as there are Gerald’s who need a place to go…a place to call home…a place to eat a hot meal…a place to belong – that’s what drives me. What if Gerald had a Boys & Girls Club to attend? Would things have been different? We’ll never know. But I do know that at least he had me that one day. His Best Day.
I want every single kid to be at The Club and feel the way Gerald did that one day. That’s why I serve.
But while my team at BCDE is the best…we can’t do it alone. We rely on the generosity of our friends and neighbors in the community. We’ve had no greater friend than Bobby and High 5 Hospitality. They have defined the word SERVE for as long as we’ve needed them. And as long as there are kids in need…as long as there are Gerald’s who need a boost…we’ll be here to help and know that High 5 is with us every step of the way.