Foster Riley cried when he heard that the Boys & Girls Club had a flood, that an overnight thunderstorm sent water through the building, that the club would be closed for several days.
That’s how much it means to him.
“This was my only home, really,” he said.
Standing next to the 19-year-old as he talked, Kris Minnis raised an eyebrow.
“Your only home?” she said. “Really?”
The woman who Riley now calls his mom elbowed him in the ribs, and both broke into laughter.
“How about your second home?” she said.
“Second home,” he agreed, still laughing.
It’s been two weeks since those rain waters flooded the Boys & Girls Club near NW 36th and Western. The carpet has been ripped up, the drywall has been replaced, and the hum of drying fans now mixes with the din of playing children. Insurance will cover some of the costs, but the final repair bill is going to run about $100,000.
Why should you care?
Allow Foster Riley to explain.
He wrestled and played basketball the past four years for Northwest Classen. Earlier this spring, he graduated high school. Later this summer, he will report for basic training in the Army. And none of that would’ve happened without the Boys & Girls Club.
“If this wasn’t available to me ... right now I’d be in jail,” Riley said standing in the club’s rec room. “Just to be honest, that’s where I’d be.”
By his own admission, Riley was a messed-up kid when he started going to the club in sixth grade. His dad wasn’t part of his life, and his mom was struggling to provide any stability.
Riley was stealing from stores, getting into fights, carrying a knife. Not yet a teenager, he was headed down a dark path. Continue on it, and the fallout would be destructive to him, harmful to others and costly to all.
Then, Riley met Kris Minnis.
She went to the Boys & Girls Club when she was growing up in Kansas, and she believes being a club kid saved her life. So, Miss Kris went to work at the club in hopes of having the same impact on other kids.
On the weekends, when she was off the clock, she would take kids from the club to the movies. Many of them only ate when they were at school or at the club, so going to the movies was a way to see that they had a meal.
After Miss Kris took Riley to the movies one weekend, he showed up at the club on Monday and asked if he could just go home with her.
Not long after, he moved in permanently.
The years that followed were not always easy. Riley had lots of issues to work through, but what he didn’t have to worry about anymore was stability.
“No matter what,” Miss Kris kept telling him, “I’m always here for you.”
Then, she backed up those words.
“There’s a lot of people out here that really don’t have a parent or anybody that can say, ‘I’m right here by your side,’” Riley said. “But she’s right here by my side.”
Miss Kris said, “Blood couldn’t make us any closer.”
The Boys & Girls Club was a lifesaver for Riley. A life changer, too.
He knows the club has the same impact on hundreds of kids in Oklahoma City. That’s why he was reduced to tears when he heard about the flood at the club. There are nearly 400 kids, some as young as 6, who go there every day during the summer.
What would they do without it?
“When the club was closed ... what were you doing?” Miss Kris asked Riley of those years past. “Honestly.”
He didn’t hesitate.
“I was out in the streets.”
That is no longer Foster Riley’s life, no longer his reality, no longer his path.
“I’m blessed,” Riley said. “I’m a totally different person.”
For that, he thanks the Boys & Girls Club.
We should all do the same.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
WANT TO HELP?
Donations to the Boys & Girls Club of Oklahoma County can be made online at www.bgcokc.org/support. To support the club after its recent flood, type the word “flood” into the “in honor” area.