In his last community center job in Lexington, Jonathan Boyd was stabbed with a pocketknife trying to break up a fight involving about 50 people. He wasn’t seriously injured, but the experience scared him away from community centers for more than a decade – until South Frankfort beckoned. “I was trying to separate two groups, and I was one of two lucky individuals to get stabbed,” said Jonathan, who was assistant director of Lexington’s Kenwick Community Center at the time.
The media played up the story and Lexington’s mayor temporarily closed the center.
That January night in 1999, Jonathan, 28 at the time, was refereeing a basketball game when a fight broke out in the stands. A man hit a youth over the head with a bottle. The youngster ran home and told his uncle, who returned armed with a knife.
A brawl ensued, and nearly 50 spilled onto the front steps of the center.
“It was just a standoff,” Jonathan remembers. “They were throwing garbage cans and chairs and whatever they could get their hands on.”
When Jonathan stepped between the uncle and his intended victim, he was stabbed in the chest. Fortunately, the knife didn’t hit any vital organs but broke a rib.
It was time to find another line of work.
Now, at 41, Jonathan is back in the game as director of The Kings Center – the faith-based community facility in South Frankfort.
“My father told me, ‘This is the work that makes you the happiest,’” he says about his decision to return. “I love kids, and I’m a big kid.”
Wednesday, Jonathan completed 100 days as head of the center. He, the staff and kids celebrated by planting a salsa garden in the center’s backyard – tomatoes, peppers, jalapenos and onions.
“It’s never a dull moment,” Jonathan says.
Thirty-one kids are currently enrolled and are cared for daily free of charge.
“It’s like a second home for them,” Jonathan says. “A lot of their homes are in disarray.”
Jonathan – a father with two children, Zach, 14, and Gabbie, 9 – says he’s glad to be a strong male presence in kids’ lives.
“It caught me off guard, but right from the beginning one young man started calling me dad,” Jonathan explained. “It threw me; I wasn’t used to strangers calling me dad. Then I learned this young man’s father is incarcerated, so he kind of adopted me.”
Not only is Jonathan a strong, male presence, but he often has to convince kids and parents that he’s not a police officer.
“I came in clean cut, and the kids think I’m the police,” he said laughing. “That’s why I grew facial hair. Some kids to this day still think I’m the police.”
The Kings Center has always been a caring place for kids, Jonathan says, but it has often lacked organization, consistency and funding.
As a former employee with parks and recreation, the YMCA, the Red Cross and other non-profits, Jonathan says he has learned the skill of organization and is bringing that to the center.
First, unlike former directors, he’s in the office on East Third Street every day.
“I’ve got a set schedule, set hours. I’m here every day, and kids know I’m here and they can stop by.”
One of his first focuses was the building itself – he rearranged the spaces, took inventory and got rid the clutter and trash.
He’s also focused on finances, which almost sank the center. Since it relies completely on donations and the generosity of local churches, he’s adding some fundraising events. A formal ball and a talent show are in the works, and he’s most excited about The Great Canoe Race Aug. 27 at River View Park.
“It’s going to be a blast,” he says.
He’s also organized daily programming and added features like a popcorn machine, Facebook page and “Chefs R Us” Fridays, when the kids get to make and serve their meals.
“We’re trying to show them the cooking process,” he says. “They’re learning their way around the kitchen – it’s a new game to them.”
Jonathan says most surprising about his job is how often he relies on “divine intervention.” It’s another incredible story each day, he says. When he has a need, a group calls up and offers to fill it, even without him asking.
For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteered to perform a much-needed inventory of the center. A group painted the building as a service project. Kentucky State University donated office supplies.
When Jonathan decided to fix up the backyard, “people came out of the woodwork” to help. GoFrankfort even donated picnic tables for cookouts.
“It’s kind of freaky how it happens,” Jonathan says. “If you know me outside of this place, that’s not how my life usually works. Everything I touch here turns to gold. Everyone’s pushing for this place to be successful.”