Boys Hope's Newest Home
by Frank Scandale
These days, when the sun peeks over the horizon of Colorado's eastern plains and splashes on the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver, it falls on a new house on Buckley Street. It happens to be the 23d Boys Hope/Girls Hope home worldwide, a Jesuit-founded and -sponsored program that offers homes and education to at-risk young boys and girls whose parents or guardians can no longer provide them with adequate care or supervision. This new 6,400-square-foot home grew out of the will of a couple of local real estate developers and the generosity of their friends and business associates. It is a story of determination and hope.
Situated just fifteen miles from some of Denver's worst neighborhoods, the house is in a pocket of Arapahoe County where deer munch on vegetation and foxes roam the fields, giving rise to the town's name, Foxfield.
Inside live Billy, Tom, Jake, and Dwight (not their real names) and two residential counselors, John Gehan and Kristin Broady. Gehan took a circuitous route to this Boys Hope home. Born in New York State and schooled in Colorado, he became interested in teaching children about the environment after a stint working in the Denver Zoo. From there he hooked up with the Florida Department of Corrections, working with young offenders in a camp setting in the Ocala National Forest.
Broady served in the Peace Corps and worked with disabled people and in group homes in a number of states, including California and Nebraska, before arriving at the house on Buckley Street. She calls the Boys Hope program "the best I've ever seen."
As the hot afternoon sun bakes the gray stucco house, the boys gather around Broady in the bright, formica-countered kitchen that sits off a large dining room containing a long mahogany-tone table and chairs. Beyond that is an expansive living room with matching sofas and overstuffed chairs. Everything still smells new. Recreation space is downstairs in the finished basement. Upstairs, bedrooms, each large enough for two boys, connect to baths and flank a computer/study room. Posters of movie actors, rock stars, and sports figures adorn the occupied rooms.
Four more boys will move in soon, coming from the legions of at-risk children in the Denver area, kids from dysfunctional homes with little educational opportunity but plenty of potential.
Oddly enough, a home in Colorado was not even on the national agenda for Boys Hope. Board members of the national organization, headquartered in St. Louis, had expansion plans that called for homes in locales where seeds had already been planted. Normally, a home gets started when a Jesuit high school invites Boys Hope to its locale or a Boys Hope national board member calls on contacts in a particular community and gets them interested in starting a home there. It had just never happened before that people outside this loop instigated the development of a home.
But Boys Hope had not yet met Denver-area real estate developers Don McFall and Barry Talley.
Both of them already had a list of charitable credits to their names. McFall was connected with the Coalition to House the Homeless and Education Outreach for the Homeless, a program run through the Denver public schools. Talley was involved with For Children Only, an inner-city tutoring program, and had built houses whose proceeds benefited public television.
But they wanted to do more. They wondered what they could do to change the course of kids' lives. "One thing we kicked around was how to get kids out of the cycle," McFall explains. "Even if you can get just eight kids to make it and come back to help others, then we have a chance to save all these kids."
McFall was familiar with the Boys Hope program. He called Fr. Paul Sheridan, SJ, its founder, in St. Louis. Fr. Sheridan didn't know McFall from McDonalds. "When I called Fr. Sheridan," McFall relates, "he asked me, 'So who are you?' And I said, 'You better be nice to me; I'm on your mailing list.'"
Fr. Sheridan remembers that phone call just a little differently: "McFall calls me and says, 'I've heard about you and your work, and the success of the children. If I got land and a home, would you come out here?' I didn't know how serious to take him. It could've been a crank call." But it wasn't.
When Sheridan mentioned to McFall that a cooperating high school was essential to starting a Boys Hope home in Colorado, McFall knew where to turn. McFall, a graduate of St. Louis University High School, had been taught there by Fr. Ralph Houlihan, SJ. Fr. Houlihan, now president of Denver's Regis High School, had been involved with getting the first Boys Hope home in St. Louis up and running.
"He said Boys Hope was one of the best programs he had seen to turn kids around," McFall says, recalling Houlihan's reaction when McFall called him. "He said he was 100 percent behind the program and would support it." That support took the form of scholarships at Regis for the boys.
McFall called Sheridan right back: "I have the school taken care of."
Then McFall and Talley went to work on a campaign whose success, others say, is a testament to the reputation both men have in the region. They got the land donated, a two-acre open plot a quarter mile from Regis. Then they called in their squad of friends and business associates. First came the major home builders--Ryland Homes, Larson Homes, Tradition Concepts, and Continental Homes. Plumbers followed, and then came masons, electricians, and roofers. Seventy-five companies in all donated more than $3,000 each in materials and services to the home.
"I've got a friend," says McFall, "who I asked for $5,000. To him that's pocket change. He told me, 'I never gave anything to anyone in my life, but because you're involved, okay.'"
"Once people were told about the program, they were more than glad to get involved," Talley explains. "It takes kids with no chance. Period. And gives them a chance to leapfrog to success in society. It's not just a one-shot deal, like taking them to a ball game or giving them new clothes. It's the only program I know that really changes kids' lives."
So, from the high grasses on the edges of Colorado's eastern plains rose the $500,000, eight-bedroom home.
McFall reflects on why he took on the project: "You get more satisfaction out of life. You see kids who didn't have an opportunity like you did, and if you have an opportunity to change that, you do. You only get so many years on this planet, and if you can do anything to help change it, well, then you do it."
McFall, a Catholic, and Talley, a Presbyterian, have been friends and business partners for eighteen years. "Barry jumped on this bandwagon right away and has done as much as or more than I have," says McFall of his partner.
Talley recalls that once McFall broached the idea and Talley read about Boys Hope's success rate--95 percent of the boys go on to college, and most go on to good careers--he signed on as well. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I knew we could do it, no doubt," he adds.
That confidence saw the project through. The boys at the Colorado home speak of a sense of safety and security they feel at the home. They have learned that it is a place where food, shelter, and love are served regularly. "Since I've been at the house, I really like it a lot," says fifteen-year-old Dwight, recalling the boys' trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, for skiing. Tom marvels at the wildlife outside his doorstep. "I saw a fox out my window--me and Billy!" Billy is the one who harbors a penchant for snakes and wants to be a veterinarian someday. "We're pretty much like a family. We bike, hike, and go to the movies," says houseparent Gehan.
And everybody knows that McFall and Talley are the force behind the home's creation. McFall characteristically steers credit away from the two, acting as though the project were the brainchild of some faraway think tank. Others know better.
"McFall set us in motion," Sheridan says. "And Barry Talley is a wonderful, genuine human being. I deal with a lot of people, and Talley and McFall are the real thing, very self-effacing."
"McFall and Talley really put this deal together," Fr. Houlihan affirms, attributing the project's success to the men behind it. "They did all the fund-raising for the house."
Sr. Patricia Garrahan oversees the home from her office at nearby Regis High. A Sister of Notre Dame from Cleveland, she comes across like the Tommy Lasorda of the Boys Hope program. Whereas Lasorda proclaims he would bleed Dodger blue for his Los Angeles baseball team, you get the feeling that Sr. Patricia would bleed Boys Hope red for her team.
"This program really works, but the kids have to be motivated. We are looking for kids with this spark of motivation," she says. "You have to help them celebrate achievements, like Dwight's graduation from eighth grade. He'd already dropped out of school twice. You reward them for positive things." She speaks of the home's goal: "We want the boys to be successful as good people." As she says this she leans forward, spreading her hands apart to make the word "good" come out about four feet wide.
Sr. Patricia mentions McFall's altruism: "The volunteers were really taken with the project because Don McFall is a person of such goodness, generosity, and integrity. People knew that if he was involved, it was a project worth getting involved in."
Talley and McFall are looking for their next project: A Girls Hope home.
"I saw a fox out my window!" shouts one resident of the Denver Boys Hope home. House parent John Gehan (on left) and residents enjoy the Colorado air in their home's back yard.
Frank Scandale, reporter and editor for the Denver Post, is a native of Brooklyn. He lives with his wife, Lorraine, and their two children in the Denver area.