‘A Night of Angels’ honors the people behind the Jack, Will & Rob Boys and Girls Club

A legacy of hope

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There is a line in the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption,” where the main character, Red, finds himself at a crossroads. As he is contemplating which path to take, he utters a profound, yet simple, sentence.“You can get busy living, or you can get busy dying.”

When Geri Pope Bidwell’s three sons, Jack, Will and Rob Warren were killed in a tragic plane crash in 1999, she could have easily sank into a well of depression, fear and grief that only a parent who has lost a child can possibly begin to comprehend.

But she didn’t.

Instead, Bidwell decided to get busy living: She channelled her rage, loss and fear into a single-minded determination; and helped build a center in her boys’ hometown that would honor them and provide refuge to other children. In 2002, the Jack, Will and Rob Boys & Girls Club, known as the JWR Center, opened in Camas.

It was the result of a an extensive fund-raising effort, creativity of some of the area’s top designers and architects, and the single-minded focus of a mother who wanted to leave a legacy of hope for other children.

In a 2002 interview, Bidwell was quoted as saying, “Creating the Jack, Will and Rob Center gave me a course of action to take that’s helped me to carry on with the spirit of what my sons loved. It’s given me the ability to create something that the boys would have wished for other kids to have.”

On Thursday, Camas resident and JWR Center member John Grall spoke at a black-tie fund-raiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland Metropolitan Area. The ‘Night of Angels’ paid tribute to Linda Rae Hickey, Henry Swigert and Brot Bishop Jr., who played vital roles in the creation and continuation of the JWR Center.

Hickey is the daughter of Camas philanthropist, businessman and coach the late Ray Hickey. Bishop Jr. committed to raising $100,000 annually for the center. Swigert committed $1 million toward an endowment fund for the center in 2010.

“Linda Rae, Hank, and Brot have altruistically given their lives for many years to help the children who need them most,” said Melissa Froman, director of resource development for Boys & Girls Clubs. “Their dedication and love for the community reflects in their philanthropic leadership and tireless work. Linda Rae, Hank and Brot have been advocates for the children and have extended their leadership to keep the operations of the Boys & Girls Club going strong in memory of Jack, Will and Rob.”

“We’re going somewhere special”

Grall has been a member of the JWR Center for several years. His first time there was a cold, rainy night in 2004, when his mom, Kelly, told him, “grab an umbrella, we’re going somewhere special.”

“I was hesitant to leave my house to go into the storm,” Grall said in his speech. “As we walked, my mom shared with me the story of a mother’s loss of her three sons and how she channeled her grief and pain into a love and passion to build a place to keep all kids safe, and to develop them into productive and responsible adults. Where we went that night was a port in a storm, for me and hundreds of kids.”

That night, Grall saw an art exhibit, created by a young Camas girl. While there, he met Bidwell and thanked her for, “this amazing gift.”

“It was the most beautiful place I’d seen,” he said. “I have never forgotten that night, or how I felt.”

During his speech at the fund-raiser Thursday, Grall surprised the crowd by telling them he had been saving up money for years from his paper route and baby-sitting to help donate to the center.

“In the years to come, I plan to work hard and raise my earnings to continue to give to my Boys & Girls Club,” he said.

The club’s funding breakdown is one-third from the Boys & Girls Clubs, one-third from the Bidwell family, and one-third from the community. However, Grall has learned that the community’s contribution is far below what it needs to be.

“I’m a volunteer there, but I wanted to do more than that,” he said. “It’s given so much to me, I need to give back in some way.”

He mentioned that the center needs to raise $80,000 in 2012 to stay fully operational.

“JWR is part of the community,” Grall said. “It’s a great place for kids to go, a safe place for them to see the generosity of volunteers. The community should support it.”

Mandy Cervantes, program director at the JWR Center, is proud that Grall was selected to speak at the fund-raiser.

“It’s his level of involvement with the club that makes him a great choice,” she said. “He’s always one of the first kids to help with the events. He’s a great kid, very well-spoken and poised.”

Froman noted that Grall’s volunteer work at the center is good example of giving back.

“John has noted that the club is his ‘home away from home,’ where he has learned valuable life skills, including giving back to his club and community,” she said.

In the center’s gymnasium, named for Ray Hickey, there is a quote painted on the floor that says, “What we need here is a little less wishbone and a little more backbone.”

“Who else is going to have the backbone that our clubs need, and join me in making a difference?” Grall said. “The kids need the Jack, Will and Rob Boys & Girls Club, and I need the Boys & Girls Club.”