Monday, July 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

The Dream Lives On

// East Siders carry on youth's desire for a community center

Billy Ray Shirley III was dedicated to making his community a better place. In the two months since the boy’s death, his mother and friends, inspired by his idealism, have been working to establish a community center in his honor.

Shirley, 17, was murdered in August. He went to a party at a facility in Nalley Valley in the early morning hours on a Saturday. A fight broke out between two groups of people and someone fired a gun. A bullet struck Shirley. His killer has not been apprehended.

Soon after his death a group of young people who knew Shirley began working to make his dream of a youth center on the Eastside a reality. That led his mother, Shalisa Hayes, to start the The Billy Ray Shirley III Foundation.

At her son’s funeral, she spoke of his dream of establishing a youth center on the Eastside. Two days later she learned some youth were holding a car wash to raise funds for such a facility. “They had not approached me,” Hayes said. “They took the reins themselves to do this.”

The foundation is assembling a steering committee to explore how to make Shirley’s dream a reality. Committee members have offered suggested on potential partners. So far Hayes has had discussions with representatives of Metro Parks and Tacoma Public Schools about the proposal.

No decision has been made on whether to aim for using an existing building or constructing a new one. Hayes said the committee has identified several sites and is researching their availability.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland is impressed by how Hayes is trying to create something positive out of the tragedy of her son’s death. Strickland is willing to look at what city resources may be available, but suggested Hayes consider using existing buildings, such as a school or church.

Within a few weeks Hayes plans to meet with an architect to begin developing a concept of what the facility might look like complete with gymnasium, perhaps two, in order to host youth basketball tournaments. She wants an academic component. “There needs to be a place for these kids to do homework and have access to the Internet,” she remarked.

Youth offering input have told her they want a music studio and arts and crafts activities.

Hayes meets with youth weekly about the project. In early January she plans to hold a meeting for elected officials, business owners and staff from organizations that want to learn more about the project.

She said her son would be pleased that people have banded together to establish a youth center, but would expect it to be named after him, as some of his friends have proposed.

“He liked doing things to help people,” Hayes said. “He did not need or want a pat on the back. He just did it because it made him feel good.”

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