Evander Holyfield’s mom used to tell him she was poor, but he was not, and he could do so much more with his life.
“Momma always told me, ‘Your time is coming,’” he said, speaking Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier’s 16th Annual Futures for Kids Gala.
“I found that if you don’t quit, you’re never that far away from (success),” Holyfield said. “I didn’t quit, so here I am today to be able to tell you if you listen, follow directions and not quit, you’ll get there.”
Holyfield, a 4-time world heavyweight boxing champion, delivered the message to a crowd of about 500 as part of the fundraiser event at Gainesville Civic Center. He spoke with board member Phil Bonelli in a question-and-answer format dubbed “Conversation with the Champ.”
“My mother sent me to the Boys Club even when I didn’t want to go anymore — at 16 years old,” Holyfield said. “It allowed me to really live this life and tell people that if it wasn’t for other people who had a little bit more and, by their giving, allowed me to become who I am.
“I realized true appreciation is when you go back and give what you got. It’s more than just ‘thank you.’”
The gala serves as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier’s “signature event,” raising money to support programs “to enrich and enhance children’s lives.”
Also, as part of the event, Gene Marlow, who has coached youth baseball, volunteered and served the Boys and Girls Clubs for six decades, was presented the Phillip Sartain Helping Hands Award.
The award is given annually to a person, group or organization that has strived to improve children’s lives at the Boys and Girls Clubs. Sartain, a retired Gainesville lawyer, was the first recipient of the award, which has been renamed in his honor.
“Everybody in life has something they are good at, if they would just pursue their dreams,” Marlow told the crowd. “I think I found mine working with the kids, cause Lord knows I love it, and I’ll continue to do it.
“I’ll know the day when it’s time to quit. I don’t feel like it’s there yet.”
At one point, he asked former players to stand up.
“This award is not mine,” Marlow said, looking at the group. “Every little piece of this is yours. If not for you, I would not be standing on this podium tonight. God bless you, I’ve always loved you and I’ll never forget you.”
“Love you, coach,” a couple of the players shouted back.
Current and former club members also spoke at the gala, including Jasmin Gaudlock, who talked about leaning on the Boys and Girls Clubs during difficult times, including when her family was homeless and she worked four jobs.
The club “taught me important life values and characteristics, such as determination, hope and optimism,” said Gaudlock, who plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education.
Speaking before the gala, Shayna Robinson of Gainesville said two of her four children go to the Boys and Girls Clubs because it’s “a positive, safe place to go after school.
“They offer a lot of activities, extracurricular sports, tutoring and different events,” she said.
It was her experiences as a youth in the organization that inspired her to guide her own children down the same path.
“It was a no-brainer,” Robinson said.