Group that aids boys with absentee fathers opens new Fort Worth center

FORT WORTH -- The three people are "son collectors," so it seemed natural that they should meet.

Gary Randle, a former Fort Worth police officer, and Noble Crawford Jr., a former Department of Public Safety investigator, find boys with absentee fathers and direct them to HOPE Farm, a faith-based after-school enrichment program.

After raising her own three children, Etta Bacy adopted three grandsons from her daughter and another boy whose mother died last year, she said. Bacy's boys range in age from 7 to 14.

The "collectors" came together Thursday night to celebrate the opening of HOPE Farm's new Family Life Center, 865 E. Ramsey Ave.

One of Bacy's sons, 10-year-old Elijah Thomas, is a HOPE student who was introduced to the piano two years ago by the organization's music director Rebecca Ringer.

Thursday night, Elijah got up in front of all the adults and played a short solo and then a duet with local jazz pianist Arlington Jones.

Bacy said HOPE Farm gives her sons positive male influences along with opportunities and experiences that would be difficult for her to provide.

That's what Crawford and Randle were hoping to do when they founded the organization in 1989 for boys between ages five and 18 being raised by single women.

"I visited the prisons, and I saw the high number of minority kids involved in the criminal justice system," Randle said. "I knew there was little I could do to help the ones that were already there. I thought it would be easier to prepare them than to repair them."

HOPE stands for Helping Other People Excel and has another location in the 5600 block of Fletcher Avenue in Como.

"We want the boys to come away with a biblical mindset, a Christian point of view and the characteristics of a godly man," Randle said. "These are mothers who want more for their children and more for themselves."

The new center, which now mentors 60 boys, should at least double the nonprofit's capacity. The new 19,000-square-foot center, which cost more than $2.2 million, gives the organization more classroom space, a new gymnasium, more office space and a stage.

"It will be a platform for many things," Randle said. "It will be used by God to change lives."

HOPE Farm does not accept federal or state funding, and the new facility was built entirely with donations from people in North Texas, Randle said.

Two years ago, when Ringer introduced Elijah to the piano, Bacy said she had no idea he was even interested in the instrument.

"I first heard him two years ago when they had their spring recital, and it just amazed us that he had this gift," Bacy said. "He tells me this is what he wants to do when he grows up, and I pray that he does."

Bacy's other sons -- LeDarian Bickems, 12, Logan Thomas, 7 and DaQuntae McKinney, 14 -- are also HOPE students and participate in the music program, Bacy said.

They came to live with Bacy because her daughter could not care for them, Bacy said. McKinney's mother was a friend with diabetes who asked Bacy to take care of her son if anything happened to her, Bacy said.

"He was part of our family before she passed," Bacy said. "So it wasn't like he was going to a stranger. From the very beginning the boys called each other brother."

Elijah and Jones performed Jones' composition Kite in the Wind from his book for piano students. Jones said the 10-year-old reminded him of himself when he was first introduced to the piano. Like Elijah, Jones said, his affair with the piano was initially furtive and filled with days of trying to figure new things out.

"I feel honored to be able to play with him," said Jones, who lives in Arlington. "He catches on to new things so fast."

As for Thomas, he said that at first he was not interested in the piano, but it grew on him.

Now, "it's fun," Thomas said.

"These boys are my sons," Randle said to the crowd on Thursday. "And I love them."

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3