RICHMOND, Va. -- The shine disappeared from the exterior of this building long ago. But Garry Callis sees beauty on West 21st Street where he recently opened his new rec center.
“When I saw it I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it,” said Garry.
Garry envisions his pride and joy as a neighborhood refuge.
“Once they step inside they’ll see something great going on. Just like the people I meet,” he said.
Garry is the founder of Children of Light. The nonprofit helps boys and girls with challenges at home and in school walk a straight and narrow path.
“Each person I am dealing with, I am dealing them as an individual,” explained Garry.
The former Insurance salesman and Air Force veteran dedicates his life to young people and their families in crisis. Feeding their souls and stomachs every day.
“It is the building light for people who need to be drawn to safety,” described Garry.
Since 1998, the Richmond native has helped more than 2,000 teens earn a high school diploma.
“We have to make sure our kids are educated right. Once we make sure they’re educated right, then we have to make sure they’re successful once they’re out here in the street,” said Garry.
Children of Light instills discipline, hard work and accountability while providing love to those who have fallen through the cracks.
“Its not the school’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s our fault. We let our kids down,” said Garry.
Above all, each person knows Garry will always be there.
Kenneth Banks credits his mentor for being the father figure he never had. The 28-year-old said if not for Garry, he probably would have ended up in jail or dead.
“I was a blank canvas. He showed me how to paint,” said Kenneth. “Now people look at me and say, ‘Wow! You have improved tremendously. Because the old Kenny you got way more chill. Your life is progressing better’. All because of this man right here.”
Friend Marvin Taylor said Garry’s dedication is second to none.
“It is never for himself. It is never for himself,” explained Marvin. “If someone was to take the information and quantify it they would see that his program is one of the best programs not only in the state but the country.”
John Mitchell said his childhood friend finds a way to help those in need.
“Garry has always been a go-getter. But a go-getter for other people,” said John.
The 58-year-old’s life was shaped by his parents, who adopted him as a child and fostered more than 70 children including Lemar Callis.
“I would have made bad choices,” said Lemar. “Garry stopped me from making a lot of bad choices.”
Garry Callis Jr. said his role model inspires every day.
“Dad is very good at showing you that there can be another way,” said Garry, Jr. “We’re all drops of water in the pool that is called life. The moment we hit the surface of that water our waves expand omni directionally, and they touch everyone.”
Garry dreams of expanding the ripple of his foundation beyond Richmond.
“As beat up as it is on the outside there are a lot good things going on on the inside,” said Garry. “I am doing something that makes me happy. It makes me happy to see other people happy.”
Garry Callis is shining brighter by the day. Children of Light is proving one man can really be a beacon in the lives of many.
Garry’s new initiative is called "Game Changers," where business leaders and mentors pair up with teens at Top Golf for monthly competitions.
If you’re interested in helping out or donating to Children of Light, tap here.
If you know of a Hero Among Us email me at email@example.com