Shalisa Hayes stood at her son’s funeral and told friends and family they needed to make his dream of an East Side community center a reality in his honor.
She didn’t know then where the idea would go, but almost two years later, $400,000 was allocated to the project last month in the state’s capital budget.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “After my son’s life was taken, I was done with this place. I was thinking: ‘Tacoma took my baby.’ But this is where I need to be. These people really do care.”
Billy Ray Shirley III, 17, was shot and killed outside a Nalley Valley warehouse Aug. 27, 2011. His homicide, one of two fatal shootings outside a Global Grinders motorcycle club party in the span of eight months, remains unsolved. He reportedly had gone to the party with friends to check on someone.
Shortly after the funeral, Hayes assembled about 20 young adults, many friends of her son, to start working toward the multimillion-dollar center.
Shirley used to tell his mother the East Side had nowhere for kids to go. Team Billy Ray has been working since his death to fix that – by raising money for a center for youth to have fun and find support, such as help with homework and mentors to talk to.
The team would like the building to be near First Creek Middle School at 1801 E. 56th St., an area they think particularly lacks after-school programs.
Hayes said they initially asked the state for $500,000, but were thrilled to get $400,000.
A feasibility study that should be done in October will give them a better idea of whether that’s possible, and how much time and further funding the project will need, Hayes said.
The study will cost between $80,000 and $90,000, she estimates. The City Council, Tacoma Public Schools, Metro Parks Tacoma and the Tacoma Housing Authority contributed funds.
The state funding will go to the city, but the project is a joint effort among all the stakeholders, Deputy Mayor Marty Campbell said.
Tacoma legislators Rep. Jake Fey and Sen. Steve Conway, both Democrats, helped secure the $400,000, Campbell said.
“It had the support of all of us in the 27th District,” Fey said. “I’m hoping that other people, private funders, will also step up to make it a reality. It’s going to take some effort to make that happen.”
The teens of Team Billy Ray are quick to say they’re in it for the long haul.
Jasmine McCane, 18, of University Place, wants the center to be a place where her 6-month-old daughter Lilly can enjoy growing up. McCane was a friend of Shirley’s in high school, and helped lobby lawmakers for the funding.
“There’s nothing for these kids to do,” she said about those living on the East Side. “We really do believe that it will help decrease the trouble kids are getting into.”
She said Hayes has created a tight-knit team that invites everyone to join.
“We all just came together as a family,” she said. “We just go to Miss Shalisa’s house to hang out, eat dinner. We try to get as many kids to join as possible.”
They spend a lot of time with Shirley’s 14-year-old brother, his mom says.
Basia Williams, 19, was a friend of Shirley’s in high school, and has been spreading the word about the center while studying at the University of Washington, regularly wearing her team T-shirt on the Seattle campus.
She was shocked when she heard they got the funding.
“I kind of felt relief, like our hard work paid off,” she said.
Williams remembers Shirley as a close, supportive friend.
“He was the listener and I was the talker,” she said with a laugh. “I felt like I never did anything for him.”
Opening the center feels like a way to change that, she said.
“We’re here to stay and we’re going to make things happen.”Alexis Krell 253-597-8268