Ron Boyeskie wants to make sure all children have the little things that make up a home: comfortable furniture, clothing that fits, birthday gifts.
Many of the children he works with have been physically, sexually or mentally abused, and have built up a shell of anger and fear to protect themselves from whatever might be coming next, Boyeskie says.
Boyeskie, 70, has been a board member at the non-profit Centers for Youth and Families for nearly 13 years. The organization provides services including counseling, residential care and foster parenting programs for Arkansas children and families.
He tells one story of a girl who had been in residential treatment at Centers and went home for a weekend stay with her grandmother. She had her first taste of freedom in quite some time, and when she woke up, she took off walking, just because she could.
She encountered a man sitting on his porch who struck up a conversation with her. She eventually accepted an invitation to go inside, where the man raped her, Boyeskie says.
She hitchhiked her way to Centers, not bothering to contact her grandmother. She was desperate to get somewhere safe, and knew she would be OK there.
“I can’t imagine the fear that that young girl faces daily. She has no one to turn to, but she’s safe here,” Boyeskie says, his voice catching in his throat. “That’s why I’m still here. It’s because we get to help those that can’t help themselves.”
Boyeskie is one of 19 board members for the agency. He is also on the facilities committee, and he tours the wards where the children stay to see if any changes need to be made.
He says he wants to be sure the Centers’ facilities feel as much like home as possible so the kids are comfortable. His policy is that if he wouldn’t live there, he can’t expect the children to.
“The children that we serve — that we try to help on a daily basis — don’t deserve to be here,” Boyeskie says. “When they were born, they did not ask to be in the environment that they are being brought into. And somebody has to speak for these kids. Somebody has to try to help them.”
His wife, Connie Boyeskie, says her husband talks often about his work with Centers, and he wants to help right the wrongs of others.
“It’s very emotional to him,” she says. “He cannot understand why some people do the things they do. He loves the kids.”
Boyeskie also worked with children when he coached a Little League baseball team — he’s a Razorbacks baseball fan, and wanted to get to spend more time with kids.
One of his favorite things about working with Centers is visiting facilities and seeing the children play safely behind tall fences. He has also seen the opposite — children who try to cause problems, slam doors and curse, reacting to a lifetime of instability.
Centers also works with adults. Its purpose is to support and strengthen families, and Boyeskie says services are available to anyone up to the age of 26.
“You’re dealing with not only children, but adolescents and then young adults,” Boyeskie says. “And they all have different needs, so there’s the reason for so many programs.”
He says it took him about six years to comprehend everything Centers does, including residential care, parenting classes, outpatient counseling, therapeutic foster care and support programs for victims of human trafficking.
“It’s a complex agency,” he says. “There’s so many fingers to it, so many programs, that it takes a while to understand all the acronyms and all the different programs. And there are a lot of them.”
“You’re dealing with not only children, but adolescents and then young adults. And they all have different needs, so there’s the reason for so many programs.”
Greg Hatcher, chairman of the board of trustees for Centers, says he started volunteering with the group a few years after Boyeskie, and turns to him for advice about board decisions. Boyeskie helped Hatcher navigate the different aspects of Centers when Hatcher started volunteering about five years ago.
“He’s willing to take a stand, go against the grain when needed,” Hatcher says, explaining that Boyeskie’s priority is getting things done. “He is always present at the meetings and the events. He gives his money and his time — I don’t know which one is more valuable, but he gives both.”
Hatcher and Boyeskie are also members of the Rotary Club of Little Rock; Hatcher succeeded Boyeskie as president.
The two worked together to organize The Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant coach in college football, during Boyeskie’s tenure, although the award is no longer the responsibility of the club.
BOY SCOUT AT HEART
Boyeskie has been interested in volunteering to help children since he was a young Boy Scout watching his parents support the troop.
“My mother was a saint,” he says. She put up with him and his brother and dad, and since they were involved in Scouting, she was, too.
As he advanced in the ranks, he worked as a camp counselor, and he kept volunteering after he became an adult.
Today he’s an executive board member for the Quapaw Area Council, a regional division of Boy Scouts of America.
“I know what Scouting gave me when I was a kid up until I was 18, so that part of me is still there,” he says. “It’s like Centers — it’s about kids, so both of those things are deeply connected to me. It’s children.”
He has three children of his own — two are stepchildren — and three step-grandchildren. He tries to get to know his grandchildren’s friends and supports them at baseball and basketball games, his wife, Connie, says.
Boyeskie also makes sure to donate to his grandchildren’s friends’ mission trips and fundraisers, Connie says.
In addition to their own kids and grandkids, the couple often welcomes visitors into their home for the holidays — children and adults they know who have nowhere else to go, she says.
“He has a hard time with holidays because he wants everybody to be with their family, and to be happy, and it’s hard for him to know that not everyone is,” she says.
Boyeskie says he wants to use some money from fundraising events to help the children who stay in residential care have better Christmases.
A NIGHT IN THE JUNGLE
The Centers’ annual fundraising gala, “Evolve: A Night in the Jungle,” begins at 6 p.m. Jan. 27. Tickets can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (501) 666-9436, Extension 3502.
This year’s event will include high-school boys who have spent the year volunteering at Centers and being mentored, says Vicki Siebenmorgen, a Centers representative.
The group, called Champions of Hope, is a part of ongoing efforts to inform more people about what Centers does, Boyeskie says.
“But what it is, is it’s the involvement in a life without hope, without love,” Boyeskie says.
Hatcher admires his friend for showing his softer side.
“The older you get, the more you cry,” Hatcher says about realizing what a difference volunteer work can make. “That’s what’s happened to him. He realizes what a difference it makes, and he just gets all choked up.”
Boyeskie has a low voice with a gentle country drawl and when he started to tear up, he takes a deep breath and blinks hard.
“Pardon my emotions,” he says, looking down at the conference table for a moment before continuing the conversation.
He was able to maintain a calm demeanor while talking about his brother John, who died in 2002 at age 54. They had roomed together at what is now the University of Central Arkansas, where Boyeskie, always trying to make people comfortable, was a head dorm counselor.
The two “fought every day that we were breathing,” he jokes.
Boyeskie studied business and administration. Now he is the vice president of CBM Construction Company, Inc., a Little Rock-based business where he has worked for 32 years.
“My wife will say that I’ll die at my desk because it gives me a lot of satisfaction to take a project from a thought to handing the keys to the owner or businessman or church,” he says.
Clark McGlothin, president of CBM, says Boyeskie rarely needs supervision because he just gets the job done.
“He’s just like a family member,” McGlothin says. “We both buried our parents together. We’ve both been sick at various times. When I was sick, he picked up my slack. When he was sick, I picked up his.”
Bill Arnold, who became friends with Boyeskie through work, says even in the business sphere, it is obvious how much Boyeskie cares about people.
“I have the utmost admiration and confidence for Ron because of his heart,” Arnold says. “The way he approaches business is from really a heartfelt sense.”
They like to fish and duck hunt together, and Boyeskie’s company does the construction work at Arnold’s church.
Boyeskie and his wife also met through their jobs — she was working for an architecture company, and he was at CBM. He sent her roses often while they were dating, and he still writes her a note every day.
“He’s fantastic,” Connie says. “The kids absolutely love him, he’s a great grandfather. He can be very strict and then he gets emotional when they do something that is sweet for him.”
Boyeskie says his father emphasized structure and discipline in their home, and it was impossible to keep secrets from him in the small town of England. It has a population of almost 3,000.
“You did your homework first,” Boyeskie says. “Excellence was required. I thought he was horrible until I grew up and realized that what he was teaching me was good for my life.”
Boyeskie’s father had been in foster care as a child. His mother died when he was a toddler. He spent much of his childhood living with an older woman, Boyeskie says.
His dad would tell him about growing up as “free labor” in the system, which Boyeskie says no longer happens under Centers’ system.
“A foster home today is a real home with a real family trying to give a child or an adolescent a perspective of what a family life should be,” he says.
While Boyeskie says he has considered fostering children himself, he was never able to make the leap.
He said when Jack, a black-mouthed cur he’d had for 14 years, died, it took a decade for his wife to badger him into getting another pet because he was so attached to Jack. This tendency toward attachment is the reason he hasn’t fostered any children.
“I’m not that special person who could foster-parent, because to me it takes so much, and I don’t know that I could do it,” he says. “If I failed, I don’t know how I would handle the failure.”
Boyeskie works for the successes, for the children he knows will have better lives because of what he does. He remembers once when a young woman who stayed at Centers approached him to tell him that she had just graduated from college and wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of the organization.
“So there is hope, but we don’t know how many we affect because there’s no tracking that we can do to see how these kids fare in life,” he says, explaining that to protect their privacy, Centers does not keep up with the underage clients after they leave.
“We try to get them in the right direction and the right perspective.”
DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Feb. 3, 1947, Crossett
ONE THING I WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT CENTERS FOR YOUTH AND FAMILIES: That they’d recognize that there are children in society that need their help. Because they didn’t ask to be where their lives have taken them.
MY PETS: We have Grace. She is 2 years old, and she’s a rescue puppy. For 10 years, I wouldn’t have a pet because we buried the last one after he was 14 years old. I said, “I’m not going to have any more pets. It hurts too much.” But my wife and I have Grace Kelly, and she owns both of us.
MY FAVORITE BASEBALL TEAMS: Well, I’m a big Razorback baseball fan. The only time I watched pro baseball was during the World Series. If I had a favorite team, it would be the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees, which are just opposites of each other. As a kid, they’re all your heroes.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT MY WORK WITH CENTERS: I guess I know that we’re trying to do something for children that they can’t help themselves with. Centers, it’s got a long name and a complicated structure because we do so many diverse things. But what it is, is it’s the involvement in a life without hope, without love. They get to see a glimpse of it in a short period of time, something they don’t have. That, to me, is what Centers is about.
ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE ME: Passionate
Print Headline: Ron Joseph Boyeskie; On the Centers for Youth and Families board, he looks out for overlooked children and families.