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Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021

They Call Me Roy

They Call Me Roy
Tony Taglavore

To honor his late brother, realtor Michael Powell has made it his mission to help children in need at Christmas. He steps up in other ways as well. Won't you join him?

December 2018. Excitement was in the air. Boys and girls, looking forward to opening presents Christmas morning. Wouldn’t you agree, there’s nothing like the look on a child’s face when they rip apart the wrapping paper and see what they asked for?

But at Ninece Williams’ house, there wasn’t much excitement. More like sadness. A single mother of two, Williams knew she wasn’t going to be able to give her girls much of anything.

“I had just started there,” Williams said of her then-new job as a pharmacy technician at Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport. “I was just finishing school. I was trying to move into my own place since I finished school, and everything was just tight moneywise.”

Then Santa Claus showed up. He went by the name “Roy.”

"His father was one of the patients,” Williams remembered. “I would fill his prescriptions — make sure he had everything up to date. (His son) came one day to pick up a prescription for his father, and that’s how we met. He asked me if I needed help with anything.”

As the sun rose Christmas morning, so did Ninece, 12-year-old Cherish, and 9-year-old Janasha. Lo and behold, there were presents under the tree —wrapped with paper waiting to be torn apart.

“They got teddy bears,” Williams said. “They got different board games. He got them some clothes that someone donated. They love dolls, and they got a lot of dolls that they can play with.”

“Roy” did all that, along with giving the Williams family a Christmas tree to put the presents under.

But how? “Roy” isn’t alive. He died Christmas Day, 1997.

Roy’s younger brother. That’s how. To thousands of kids, Michael Powell is Roy.

“I haven’t been called Michael Powell in forever. It’s Mr. Roy. I get called Roy quite often. It’s kinda cool.”

Powell started the Roy’s Kids program 15 years ago, named for his older brother, who never had kids, but “loved kids and would give them anything.”

“He was like my dad, uncle, best friend, mentor, father, everything,” Powell said. “I miss him. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor him.”

With help from individuals, business owners and organizations, Powell says Roy’s Kids has given some 30,000 children a merry Christmas.

“It’s like an addiction now,” Powell said. “It’s my drug of choice. It’s so cool to make sure a kid’s going to have Christmas. We needed a 'Roy' back when we were growing up, because we didn’t have one.”

What Powell and his brother did have was a single mom, who — for most of Powell’s childhood — “just hung out. I don’t really remember her working … I think she stayed drunk for like a year.”

Which meant something as simple as going to the grocery store was, at times, embarrassing.

“I remember going to Brookshire’s and shopping for about an hour,” Powell said. “We got to the counter, and the lady kind of looked at my mom, and called the manager over. (Mom’s) credit card wouldn’t work. The guy behind us said, 'I got it.' My mom said, 'No, that’s not necessary.' He goes, 'I want to do it.' My mom said, 'No, that’s all right.' And we went home (without food). Pretty brutal.

"I thought she should have taken his money."

If buying groceries was a struggle, imagine Christmas.

"I remember my mom struggling so bad growing up,” Powell said. “She would spread out all the credit cards to see which ones she would use for Christmas. It was pretty rough.”

“Mom” eventually found her footing.

At age 36, she went to nursing school, finishing first in her class.

“She worked hard until the end of her life,” Powell said.

In 2003, Elizabeth Rae Matthias died from Stage 4 lung cancer.

“I don’t remember her ever doing anything for herself,” Powell said. “Vacations for us were the weekends. We didn’t go to the beach. We had Saturday. We mowed the grass, and we hung out. The weekends were our vacation. It was crazy. It was tough.”

Those memories of mom doing without and Michael and Roy doing without much are the gas that fills Michael’s engine.

“I work harder at Roy’s Kids than I do at real estate,” said Powell, who owns The MSP Group. “I’m always begging. I’m always asking.”

One of those who have been “asked” more than once is entrepreneur Pattie Gilbert. She was born and raised — and lives — in Dallas. However, her mother and grandparents were born in Shreveport. Gilbert has a family farm north of town and met Powell while doing a real estate transaction.

Gilbert says she has given more than $50,000 to Roy’s Kids in the past 14 years.

“There are so many kids out there, and so many single parents, and/or grandparents, that are helping take care of kids,” Gilbert said. “Mike is about the most personable person I’ve ever met. Just seeing what he does, and the smiles on kid’s faces … just to see their faces and to know that Roy’s Kids was able to just put a glimmer of hope or a smile on a kid's face.”

Powell and Gilbert say what makes Roy’s Kids different from other groups which buy Christmas presents for children is that “Roy’s Kids” get what they want, not what they need.

“We don’t just throw stuff at them,” Powell said. “We try to get a list from them, to see what they really want. We try to make sure that at least one of the items on that list shows up.”

“To read those lists, it pulls at your heart strings,” Gilbert said. “I’m really bad about thinking I know what this child may need, but I see what he wants, and I would rather give him or her what they want.”

Roy’s Kids didn’t start with the financial help of others. Powell spent $2,000 of his own money to help 20 children have a Christmas that first year.

“Now, I have people who will say, ‘We want a kid. Give us a kid,’” Powell said. “They will go shop for them. They will wrap (the gift). Bring it to us. Mom will come pick it up, and we will call it a day.”

“It’s not only heart-wrenching, but it’s heart-warming at the same time,” Gilbert said. “To know that something that didn’t take me an hour to do can give a child hours, weeks, days and months of enjoyment.”

Christmas 2021 will be here soon. There will be kids like Cherish and Janasha, who want whatever it is they want. There will be single moms like Ninece who know they won’t be able to give their children what they want.

Unless they get help — from Roy. “They’re his kids,” Powell said. “That’s my honor to him.”

To learn more about Roy’s Kids, you may visit its Facebook page: @royskidsforchristmas.

To book Lamar Player for your holiday Santa, call 318-990-1344.

The third annual “Roy’s Kids Mardi Gras Christmas in October” fundraiser will be held Saturday, Oct. 23, 5:30 p.m., at The Swim School in Shreveport.

There will be a live and silent auction. Tickets are sold out. However, you may donate an auction item or sponsor a child for Christmas.

“We’re hoping to do $50-$60,000 this year,” Michael Powell, the founder of Roy’s Kids, said. “That will run us for two or three years.”

From June 1-Aug. 15, Roy’s Kids also collects school supplies for children. “Our goal is to give every kid a loaded backpack for school,” Powell said.

To reach Roy’s Kids regarding the donation of an auction item, the sponsorship of a child at Christmas, or to donate school supplies, you may contact the organization by calling (318) 525-2187.


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