Khairi Perry knows how it feels to sleep in a car at night — with only the windows separating him from the cold.
He knows the sting of frigid leather seats that get colder as dusk turns to dawn.
“I know the feeling of not having a closet, but having duffle bags storing all of our belongings,” the Thomas Jefferson High School senior said during the Federal Way Boys & Girls Club’s annual fundraising breakfast on Sept. 20 at Emerald Downs in Auburn.
The oldest of four siblings, Perry said his family has been homeless countless times.
“Sometimes the only presents we saw for Christmas was through the Boys & Girls secret Santa,” he recalled, noting he also knows what it’s like to be afraid and weak from hunger.
But seven years ago he found the Federal Way Boys & Girls Club — what he referred to as his “saving grace.”
“The club has helped me by being there for me during some of the worst times in my life. The club helped me by giving me food and clothes when I needed it most,” Perry recalled. “The club is a place where I knew someone had my back.”
Someone like Mark Hendricks.
The longtime Federal Way Boys & Girls operations director, who was chosen as the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for September, is retiring after 31 years with the Boys & Girls Club of King County.
Perry thanked Hendricks during the event for helping him to overcome many of his challenges. After he graduates from high school, Perry plans to attend college in the Northwest and major in computer science.
“We’ve had kids who’ve just had to overcome so many things that we’ve never even thought about,” Hendricks told the Mirror. “And not only are our kids surviving, but they’re thriving. Khairi is a prime example of that.”
Hendricks has dedicated his career to helping youth like Perry to thrive.
The South Dakota native got his start serving youth while he earned his recreation degree from the South Dakota State University, working in the intramural sports department. He went on to earn his Master’s in physical education at Washington State University, where he also worked in the intramural sports department.
The longtime Federal Way resident began working for the Boys & Girls Club of King County’s Ballard branch 31 years ago.
“I left there six years ago and when I did they named the ball field after me. They gave me my own little bobble head,” he said, pointing to the wobbly mustached figure on his desk at the Boys and Girls Club’s Ron Sandwith Teen Center in Federal Way, where he has worked since he left the Ballard branch. The ball field at the Federal Way Boys & Girls Club’s 8th Avenue location, which was renovated in 2016, is also named after Hendricks.
Talk to any one of the staff members who work at the club, and it’s apparent that Hendricks’ impact on the community stretches much further than the two fields that were named after him.
“People show up just for Mark and that speaks bounds for his position,” said Louie Grill, program director for the Federal Way club who has worked with Hendricks for the past six years. Grill noted that most people in Hendricks’ position focus on the fundraising and networking aspects of the job, but he said Hendricks has a “very hands on” approach.
“We have kids who show up here just to see him — and that’s such a huge draw of this place,” Grill noted. “Because once they come in, the reason why they come back is the connections they make with positive adults.”
Grill said he also looks up to Hendricks.
“He’s taught me a lot. I look up to him so much … he cares about you and he carries that on through everything, he truly does,” Grill said. He continued, “He is here consistently every day giving those moments of possibility to change someone’s life. He’s consistently showing love without ever expecting anything back.”
Monica Davis, who works at the front desk of the club, said Hendricks will “take out of his own pocket” if he sees a need.
“We are losing a legend,” Davis said. “Thirty-one years with an organization — that says a lot for him and his love and his passion for the youth in our community.”
Hendricks said the Federal Way clubs, which combined serve approximately 3,500 kids daily, strive to raise the next generation of community leaders and provide youth with a safe place — one of Federal Way youth’s biggest needs.
“I think that our kids in Federal Way need a safe and positive place to be able to go to and that’s what we try to offer,” said Hendricks, who served on the city’s Violence Prevention Coalition Steering Committee, which Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell created in 2016 in response to an increase in homicides.
Given his athletic background, one of his favorite programs the club offers is sports, which he said help build community.
“I still get goosebumps just seeing all the kids, especially the real little ones … out there just smiling having fun, being with friends.”
The club offers over 100 programs for youth and teens, from cooking classes and homework help to rock climbing.
“We’ve got a nice rock wall in the gymnasium and you can see all the little handprints from the chalk that are up at the top of it, but to see a kid attempt it and accomplish it is another one of those really feel-good moments,” said Hendricks, who plans to stay at the club a little longer while the team puts together a transition plan for a new operations director.
He noted the most challenging aspect of his career is reaching out to some of the kids that the club doesn’t see on a regular basis.
“That’s the No. 1 thing that we want to try and do is to form a relationship so that if they need a really strong push in the right direction you can give it to them,” he said. “But before some of the kids will let you in, you need to develop that relationship.”
And it’s building these relationships that have motivated and inspired Hendricks throughout his career.
“Since I’ve been doing this for 31 years, I currently have in Federal Way two families where I’ve helped raise the moms,” he said. “So the moms came to the Boys & Girls Club when I was at the Ballard branch and now they just happen to be living in Federal Way and now they’re bringing their kids to the club. That’s the full circle type of a thing.”
He has also received cards and letters from many current and former club members who he has built relationships with over the years.
“Every now and then you’ll get a card or a letter from somebody that says, hey I heard you’re retiring, I just want you to know from the very first day I came into the club you were the guy who got down on one knee and said, ‘Hey, it’s gonna be just fine,’” Hendricks said. “That they still remember their first day of showing up when they were a kindergartner and scared about coming to this big club, that they remember meeting me and then knowing it was going to be OK. Those are big moments to hear … knowing you made an impact on someone’s life.”