By Richard Feero
It was a warm summer afternoon in late August 2007. I was already getting a little homesick for college, slipping into some nostalgia when I was jarred back to reality with the ringing of the bell to mark the end of the school day. I was at Buford Middle School, waiting outside of our classroom to greet for the first time the 7th and 8th graders in our tutoring program. I had met most of the kids already at home when I was introducing myself to the families in the community the two previous weeks. As students approached I welcomed them, introduced them to their tutors, and passed along a few instructions as I waited for the next student. Amidst this process a young man slowly walked up, he had a little swagger to him. I hadn’t met him yet. This young man introduced himself to me, Paul Fry III. He proceeded to tell me “how things were at Buford,” what he was and wasn’t going to do, and then cracked a joke on me. I immediately knew he was going to be fun to have in our group.
At that point Paul was only enrolled in the tutoring program. Over the course of the fall we built a relationship and as I slowly connected with his mom we were able to get him signed up for 5/8. Paul was a great addition to this group. He thoughtfully engaged the Bible study lessons and set a good example for the younger guys in the group. In the spring of 2009 he graduated from middle school and moved on to high school. At this point my connection with him was minimal. However, through Dylan Rosenthal he got connected with Young Life and gave his life to the Lord in high school. I reconnected with him when he volunteered as a 5/8 student leader his junior year. The next year he enrolled into our first year of STRIVE before graduating from high school. After 1.5 years at Piedmont Virginia Community College, Paul transferred to Radford University in the fall of 2015 to pursue his bachelor’s degree, becoming the first STRIVE graduate to transfer to a four-year college.
It was almost 10 years from when I first met him that Dylan and I rolled up to Radford, bringing with us 9 STRIVE participants. This was our first stop on a 5-day college tour during the city schools’ spring break. After lunch Paul met up with our group, and just as he did when I first met him, he told us “how things were at Radford.” Now Dylan and I had talked to the guys at length about college, and so have many of their mentors, but this time Paul came with the swagger and the authority of someone who faced and overcame the same trials that the HS guys we brought are up against. Paul shared from the heart with the guys the hopes and challenges of being the first person in his family to graduate from college. He talked about the importance of declaring a major that has opportunities for employment and one in which professors are available to give extra help outside of class. He went on to share his regrets on not doing more to prepare himself in high school for what lies ahead and how in college it’s important to have positive people around you to encourage you as you try to find a healthy balance of school, work, and free time.
Early in his time at Radford, a Christian Fellowship called Campus Outreach reached out to Paul. He credits the community and structure of Campus Outreach for the continual growth in his faith and his academic success at Radford. The goodness of Jesus is evident in the man Paul has become, and is continuing to be. The Christian journey is full of pits and snares as we wait for the evil one to be defeated, the world made right, and our own bodies freed from sin. Please lift Paul up in prayer that he will continue to find his purpose and joy in Jesus, that he would be able to balance school and work (he just picked up another job to help pay for school expenses), that he would graduate with his Bachelors in Psychology next spring, and the Lord will reveal the plans He has for Paul after Radford. I’m thankful to God for his presence and work in Paul’s life, it is a blessing and an encouragement to my faith.