About 45 children gleefully come into the Caldwell cafeteria every afternoon with bright smiles, warm hugs for a group of school program workers.
The students excitedly share tales from their homes and day with the staff of the Boys & Girls Clubs of East Texas, including 19-year-old Shalexus Mays.
Ms. Mays, of Tyler, has worked with the organization since August, but has already made a positive impact on the students.
First-grader Micah Pierson, 7, said he thinks Ms. Shalexus is awesome and encouraging.
“Every time I act crazy, she says, ‘calm down Micah, calm down …” he said “Every time I cry, I get Ms. Shalexus, I hug her and she says, ‘you feel better.’ ... “Every time we be bad she always says, ‘one strike.’”
Micah even prayed away a headache for her one day. Ms. Mays said he asked he why she looked down, and after hearing a headache was he culprit, he offered up a prayer.
“He said, ‘Can I pray for your headache,?’” she said. “He said, God I come to you, and I pray’ … and within five or six minutes my headache was gone.”
Third-grader Sofie Williams, 8, is also fond of Ms. Shalexus.
“I think she’s really nice and pretty…” she said. “I like how she barely ever gives strikes, I like her wardrobe and I like that she’s nice to other kids.”
Ms. Mays’ beliefs guided her to the organization.
“I felt like God called me to be a leader and an example,” she said. “I felt like I could do that with younger kids.”
The calling was a fairly recent one, and until two years ago, she did not know the Lord.
“When I entered high school I became very rebellious,” she said. “I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be popular.”
That included bouts of depressing, being affiliated with gang members, and holding resentment from coming from a broken home.
She said the path she was on was a misguided one, but wasn’t sure how to get out until a group from the Church of Living Hope began witnessing to people in the apartment complex where she lived. She resisted the message at first, but eventually started going to the church in April 2011, and was saved Oct. 29, 2011.
“I didn’t really experience that love (God’s love) until I was 17 years old,” Ms. Mays said. “God took me through that path of destruction, but (I) went though that to be an example to those kids so they won’t go down that path.”
Ms. Mays said the Boys & Girls Club is a religious organization, but not an overt one. Messages of God’s love are done through encouragement, listening and relating to the students in the program.
“Sometimes I see kids hurting, and I go up to them and I ask them if they are OK and they begin to open up to me,” she said.
She said her background allows her to empathize with children who may be going through a hard time or may not have both parents at home.
“It’s incredible to see the fruit that we’ve been planting in these kids,” she said. “I can see changes in a lot of them since we first started school in August.”
Looking forward, Ms. Mays said she wants to make a career out of helping
Ms. Mays is a sophomore at Tyler Junior College, majoring in social work. She feels God is preparing her to work in child protective services or in the foster care system, but until she graduates, she intends to stay right were she is.
“I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else but at the Boys & and Girls Clubs, and I’m excited to see what God has for me in the future.”