WRITTEN RICHARD SEVEN
PHOTOGRAPHED BY KEN LAMBERT
Bill Burton | Standing tall behind the kids
KIDS AND PARENTS line up outside the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club, waiting to pick through donated school supplies. Executive director Bill Burton stands behind a front table, greeting, and keeping his eyes open for glitches.
A big, wide man who looks like the football player he once was, he speaks in a raspy voice the kind that, when needed, lets kids know he means business. He's been the top guy here a long time and grew up across the street, just off Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The club isn't much to look at squat, dirty brick, nearly windowless, yet probably 10 times the size of the club that Burton, 55, attended as a kid. But Rainier Vista is past adequate now, so Burton is heading a project to raise money for a new center on almost three acres a few hundred yards south. He hopes to have the new center open by 2007.
"This is especially important to me," he says, "because I know this neighborhood and know what public housing is like and what better way to give something back than to do it in my own neighborhood?"
Burton doesn't depend too heavily on words. Instead he introduces Romelle Bradford and Gerleza Jackson. Each was named the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year. Bradford, who won the award in 2003, works for Burton and has enrolled in Bellevue Community College, where he studies computer science. Gerleza Jackson, the 2004 winner, is a senior at Franklin High School and has her eyes on a nursing career.
They say Burton and this club helped them learn priorities and ultimately their identities. They tell remarkable stories: Bradford wasn't even going to school when he showed up here years ago; Jackson says this place and the people who run it gave her a childhood again.
Their kind of success is rare. More often, it is colored gray and appears years later. Burton tells of a surprise visit last year, from five men, alumni of the club. He remembered them as troublemakers. But they just showed up on that day to say thanks.
"A lot of times, kids don't see where you're coming from until they grow up. They might have to go through hard times. Sometimes even get institutionalized. But when they come back and say, 'Man, you helped me out' like these guys did, well, man, it brought tears to my eyes."
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. Ken Lambert is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
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