Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Allen Treece remembers the very first day he met Malachi Kirby.
Kirby, then in third grade, was riding the bus from McNabb Elementary to the club. He sat in the very front row and asked Treece - who was a stranger at that point - his name and if he was the new director. Treece answered, then focused his attention on getting the children behind Kirby to sit down. Kirby turned around and told them all to sit as well.
"He was either trying to impress me and get on my good side, or he was a born leader," Treece said. "Either one of those answers was good enough for me. But I think now, looking back on it, he was definitely a leader."
Kirby, now 12 and a seventh-grader at Paducah Middle School, is the newest face of the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club. His kind smile and heart-warming story will soon be part of a United Way campaign and will be used in other marketing materials community-wide, Treece said. Behind Kirby's blue-green eyes, however, is a story of survival.
As the only child of a single mother, Kirby's mother keeps him on task. But before the duo moved to Paducah, Kirby was a young kid in Mayfield with little to do.
"Mayfield had some football, but besides that there was nothing for me," Kirby said. "I saw alcohol, I saw drugs. I've been offered them and turned it down. If I didn't have the Boys and Girls Club, I would still be running around the streets, and I would probably be getting into trouble."
For the past year, the club has been fundraising more than ever. After opening its second location on Park Avenue a year ago, and adding after-school programs to boot, Treece thought it was time to put a face on the community's investment into the club.
One in every six Paducah City school students is involved with Oscar Cross. The club sees at least 150 kids each day. While Kirby is articulate and stands out, the club has hundreds like him who thrive at the club every day.
"He embodies what it is like to be a good example to those around you," Treece said. "Every day he is positive, he's reflective. These kids look up to people who are successful, but they can look right next to them at the club and see Malachi."
Kirby's first career choice for the future - like club-goers Bryan Hall and George Wilson - is to be a professional athlete. But perhaps his "Plan B" shows how Kirby is wise beyond his years. He would like to be a doctor and deliver babies.
"I have seen the smile that my mom had when she had me," Kirby said. "I've seen babies smile. I want to catch those smiles."
Kirby and Treece have a special bond, and it's through that bond that Treece said he got to see Kirby's potential. The pair deliver toys to underprivileged kids, do chores, run track and play golf together. Treece drives him to doctor appointments and home when his mother has conflicts with work. He says he's not sure which way the relationship leans, whether he's learned more from his relationship with Kirby or the other way around.
The responsibility of being a club spokesman, however, is not something Kirby is taking lightly.
"I just want to be a positive influence," he said. "It's a privilege, and I am glad he trusted me to do it."