NASCAR Racer Paulie Harraka’s Visit to the Childhelp VA Village
Posted 11/04/2010 by Paulie Harraka
It was a summer day, about a year and a half ago, when I first visited the Village. I was a little late arriving, as I had hit some traffic on my drive down from New Jersey. Wade, one of the Village staff and a man who has dedicated his life to helping these children, took me around to meet the kids. They had been told that a racecar driver was coming to see them, and many of them had printed pictures for me to sign.
Getting around the Village takes a while, as it is somewhat spread out. I saw the kids in groups of five to ten, as they were each involved in their own activities and had their own schedule. Wade and I arrived at one of the last cottages later in the afternoon, probably around 3:30. Upon knocking on the door, a young man opened it, looked at Wade and me, and ran back into the house yelling "He's here!". Needless to say, I was glad that the boy was happy to see me. Just as quickly as he had disappeared into the cottage, the boy reemerged in the entranceway. This time, however, he had a second boy with him. This boy was younger and was carrying a large white poster. The poster was so large, in fact, that it seemed to make it difficult for the younger boy to walk. As he turned, I noticed that the poster was covered with pictures from my entire racing career. The young boy, who we'll refer to as Timmy, looked up at me with the biggest blue eyes I had ever seen. What he said next about knocked me to the floor.
"They told me you were coming around lunchtime, but lunch came and went and you weren't here. And I've had a lot of people lie to me in my life. So I thought they were lying to me," the words were coming out of his mouth almost faster than I could process them. "So I got really mad and I kicked and I screamed and I said not-nice things. But now you're here. And I'm really sorry. And would you sign this for me?"
Breathe, Paul, breathe. I signed the poster and began speaking with the boy, trying to process what had just happened. Yes, it was cool that he wanted my autograph and that he had taken the time to make this poster. But something bigger had just happened. Here was a young boy who had just recognized that his behavior was wrong, expressed that he knew it was wrong, and admitted that he was working on it to a complete and total stranger. I would never have known about his temper issues if he had not shared them with me. Only in an environment like this, where "all who enter here will find love" could this happen. It was then that I knew God had given me an amazing opportunity to work with Childhelp and I decided that I would do everything I could to make a difference.
Moving back to this weekend, I was helping another boy make a scarecrow when I started to pick up on the fact that a young blonde boy named Timmy was in our group. I figured that, a year and a half later, there was no way that Timmy was still here. Still, I continued to be attentive to the situation.
Eventually, it became harder and harder to ignore. He had the same big blue eyes. The same small stature. The same voice. I asked a staff member if Timmy had been there long. She let out a sigh and shook her head, "Yes. Almost 3 years now."
This was the boy who changed my life.
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