Luke, a five-year-old participant in the Wichita Falls YMCA pre-k program, tragically lost his mother in a fire when he was only one. Growing up without a mother has been tough, but there was something else that plagued him just as much. Luke said, "the firefighters did not save my mom." He had developed a deep resentment about it at his tender young age. Feelings of loss and bitterness showed itself in anger.
When YMCA leaders discovered what was going on, they sprang into action to help. They requested a conference with Luke's dad, Michael. Michael was nervous about the meeting because Luke had been kicked out of another preschool. He was doing the best he could to raise Luke as a single parent. Shica Gavaldon, a YMCA Early Childhood Site Director, told Michael, "We'll work with you if you work with us." Shica, along with School Age Coordinator, Shelly Donaldson, and Branch Director, Belinda Cavitt, found a counselor for the dad and son who would help them at no charge. Michael agreed to go.
YMCA staff contacted the Wichita Falls Fire Department and explained the situation of Luke and his family. Fire Marshall David Collins arranged a day that he hoped Luke would never forget. He gathered a team of firefighters at Station Eight and told them about Luke.
Luke and his dad were VIP guests at Station Eight. Luke got to turn on a firehose, ride in their biggest truck, tour their sleeping quarters and then was fed a lunch fit for a king, all with his new friends the firefighters. They talked to him, listened to him and encouraged him. At the end of the visit Luke asked Shica if he could be a firefighter when he grew up. She said, "You can be anything you want to when you grow up!"
Much healing has taken place over the last several weeks. That extends to Luke's dad, who was away on a fishing trip when his wife died in the fire. Michael smiles and interacts with Y staff much more than he did when he and Luke first arrived. The Y staff has taken both of them in. They've let them know "at the Y, we're your second family."
Luke still has good days and challenging ones, but he knows he always has someone he can talk to at the YMCA. Whatever he grows up to be - a firefighter or something else – Luke will always have a special place in the YMCA family.