VIDEOS: FATHER'S DAY
As far as Al Lacy knew, he had no skills in dealing with children because he'd never had any, so he wasn't keen on the idea of tutoring at Woodville Elementary School.
But his wife, Beverley, was persistent. The Micah Initiative needed volunteers, and he had time because he was semiretired. He finally agreed to help with a summer session at the Richmond school, but nothing more.
And then he met Antonio Riley.
Something clicked between the white-haired businessman, then 52, and the kindergartner struggling to learn the letters of the alphabet.
"We just hit it off," Lacy said. "He is very curious and likes to learn. And so do I. We enjoy the same kind of things. We enjoy museums, looking at stuff in general, sports. We do movies together. Our personalities are much alike.
"We have just enjoyed each other."
Lacy now is part of more than 1,000 volunteers from 83 faith communities helping out at 25 Richmond elementary schools through the Micah Initiative, which has grown from the program started 11 years ago by St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Lacy is on the organization's board.
Antonio will enter Thomas Jefferson High School in Richmond this year, but he still makes time to hang out with Lacy.
On one of his last days at Albert Hill Middle School, they went back to Woodville for a visit. Lacy had a meeting of the Micah board, and Antonio wanted to see some old teachers. In between, they sat in the cafeteria and traded good-natured comparisons.
"We both like to read now," Antonio said.
"We're both good-looking," Lacy said with a grin.
"We know how to have fun," Antonio added.
Antonio was dealing with a lot when his grandmother, Jerlene Lewis, signed him up for the summer academy at Woodville. His mother had been murdered and his father was in prison. Lewis had custody of all four children, the oldest 9 years old and the youngest 13 months. Antonio was 5.
"Antonio . . . just couldn't communicate and read, dealing with tragedy and all of that," Lewis said. "Up stepped Mr. Lacy. They hit it off real good. He started off as tutor, then Big Brother. He does everything with Antonio."
Antonio has other father figures in his life, including his grandfather, but Lacy has a special place.
"He's like a father figure and a brother figure at the same time," Antonio said. "When I get in trouble, he gets on my case. When we're hanging out, it's more brotherlike."
Antonio's grandmother calls Lacy a blessing.
"Antonio has learned a whole lot: self-esteem, believing in himself, making honor roll, going to places, going to camp," she said. "Mr. Lacy helped my grandson to become the young man he is now.
"I wouldn't give nothing for Mr. Lacy, and Antonio wouldn't, either."
Contact Katherine Calos at (804) 649-6433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.