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Boys & Girls: A chance for kids to be a kid
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Why am I digging into my pockets to donate to next week’s Boys & Girls Club Telethon?

I can think of 1,500 good reasons.

But I’ll just tell you about one. It’s a kid named Bryan I met about 12 years ago.

It was during the Manteca Chamber of Commerce’s Operation Christmas where 300 people put up $100 apiece so the community’s neediest kids could go clothes shopping and get a Christmas present. It was organized chaos at best. As the troubleshooter, I got to deal with an extremely small - but excessively annoying - gang of ungrateful parents (they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place) who wanted to return things for cash, have the kids buy stuff for them, and even a few who made scenes because their kids weren’t picked.

All in all, it was a real ugly way to start off the Christmas week. Every year, though, a handful of us who organized the event ended up going shopping with kids who weren’t matched with shoppers, but we had $100 donations to buy a kid clothes and a gift.

There were always older kids who were at the upper limit of the age cut-off, which was the sixth grade. Some years I’d shop with two or three. It usually put things back in perspective.

One year, I got the last kid left. His name was Bryan. He was a lanky and quiet sixth grader who had kept to himself in the corner of the Boys & Girls gym where we staged the event before loading up buses and heading out to Mervyn’s and Kmart. He had never been to the club before and was amazed a place like it existed in Manteca.

On the bus ride over, Bryan chatted up a storm. When we got to Mervyn’s, all he wanted to buy was clothes for his younger brother and younger sister.

I thought I had another kid who had been programmed by his parents to shop that way, so I told him the day was about him.

He then told me a story that I later found out was 100 percent on the money. His dad worked construction off and on out-of-state while his mom hadn’t been able to work because she was extremely sick. He was helping her care for his siblings. His mom was upset that she couldn’t provide for her kids. So Bryan had taken it upon himself to do everything possible to help.

He thought that shopping for his little sister and little brother instead of himself was the right thing to do. I told him we’d shop for him first and if there was anything left over, we’d consider getting them an item or two.

The first thing we went for were sneakers. He was too embarrassed to take his shoes off. I figured it was smelly feet - typical 12-year-old stuff. The problem was worse than that. He had holes in his socks big enough to fit a toe through.

We got him a pair of clean socks and tried on shoes.

We got him a somewhat typical selection for kids on the buying spree - a week’s worth of socks and underwear, plus T-shirts, pants, sneakers and a jacket.

Bryan still had about $15 left and he thought it was best he buy more clothes, since that would be easier on his parents. When I insisted that he buy something for himself like a toy at Kmart, he wanted to know if it was OK to buy an umbrella to keep his books dry going to and from school as well as a backpack to carry homework.

What does this have to do with the Boys & Girls Club?

I paid for a membership for him at the Boys & Girls Club.

Bryan wasn’t a regular, since he spent a lot of time at home helping his mom. But he got a chance a couple of times a month to get to the club when a neighbor could give him a lift.

I didn’t think much of him again until a few years later when one of his former teachers mentioned that Bryan and his family had moved away and that she wanted to thank me for getting him to join the club.

When I asked why, she simply said it gave him “a chance to be a kid.”