Editor's note: Some last names have been kept confidential in this story to protect the subjects from potential harm.
In the fast-paced milieu of a busy performing artist, going from venue to venue, from hotel to hotel and from city to city, it's easy not to pay attention to the people around you no matter how remarkable they may be.
That's the world Austin-based songwriter/rock singer Patrice Pike lives in. On the road, sometimes she makes friends and sometimes she doesn't. It's just how things are. It's something that happens as we grow old, she thinks, we don't let as many people into our lives knowing that it takes time and effort to maintain personal relationships — and who has time?
But at one gig in Arkansas, one sassy server, a feisty cowgirl made Pike stop and pay attention.
Amid a sound check Grace hollered, "Y'all sound great. . . you'll do well tonight!" Grace kept sharing her thoughts out loud, going on and on.
A hardworking showgirl like Pike has her act down pat. She wondered who this young gal was and why she would offer her unsolicited opinion. Pike was taken, charmed — though put off at first. Despite her tiny figure, Grace was all personality, serving up bar food and cocktails to her loyal crowd. From that encounter, a pen pal friendship ensued.
Lighthearted letters went back and forth. But one day, Pike received a letter of a different tenor.
"Grace was about to have heart surgery and wanted me to know that in case she didn't make it, in case I would no longer hear from her, that she didn't just disappear," Pike says.
"It means so much to anyone for someone else, especially someone who hardly knows you, to believe in you. For so many people to say, how can I help you be the person you are capable of being, it means a lot. It's beautiful."
A combination of genetics, descent into vagrancy, alcoholism and drugs led to cardiomyopathy. But this story has a happy ending.
Grace wasn't counting on Pike's medical know-how, something she inherited from her mother, who's a nurse. She didn't count on the many similarities that the two women shared, from growing up in an at-risk household to running away and to enduring homelessness. And she didn't think Pike would get involved personally, help her emotionally and financially, and stage a benefit concert to bankroll her medical care.
That was in 2004.
How one person inspired a movement
"Her story could have been my story, " Pike says. "But I was lucky, though I barely missed her trajectory.
"I went to a high school (Booker T. Washington in Dallas) where I wasn't a black sheep. Many of my friends came from unstable family environments. I had teachers and counselors that looked after me. I had a place to stay and a couch to crash on, but others weren't so fortunate."
Fast forward two years. That's when Pike joined forces with Todd Young, CEO and co-founder of ProspX, to establish The Grace Foundation of Texas in Austin, later expanding to Houston in 2009 and Dallas in 2011. It's in her DNA: Pike is on a mission to break the cycle of teenage homelessness. Her weapons are college scholarships, one-to-one mentorship, career training and placement and access to health practitioners.
One of the foundation's first cases, Candice, said in a video message: "It means so much to anyone for someone else, especially someone who hardly knows you, to believe in you. For so many people to say, how can I help you be the person you are capable of being, it means a lot. It's beautiful."
"Think of a typical 13-year-old: Do you think they have the maturity to deal with living in the streets? These kids don't have a support system."
Grace in Houston
Working alongside Houston's Star of Hope, five local youngsters ages 17 to 19 have been selected as this year's Grace Foundation's scholarship recipients. They are headed to Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University and the University of Houston to major in engineering, political science and education.
Every scholarship winner receives a different awards package, one that's aligned with their specific needs and aspirations.
"We treat runaway teens as if they were adults, and we should not, " Pike says. "Think of a typical 13-year-old: Do you think they have the maturity to deal with living in the streets? These kids don't have a support system, and since Child Protective Services is not involved in many of these cases, they fall through the cracks."
The Grace Foundation of Texas operates on a shoestring budget. With Pike at the helm, minimal staff and volunteers, money is what's in the way of reaching more youth. The nonprofit has managed to broaden its services threefold every year, and is on its way to do that again.
The third annual gala, which is more akin an arts showcase with seated dinner and cocktails than the typical black-tie affair, is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Warehouse Live. Tunes by Pike's Band, Houston blues girl Kristine Mills and a special performance by LongDive will accompany a silent auction and live painting by Rolando Diaz, who was also living on the streets at 16. His creation will be sold to the highest bidder at the end of the evening.
Where's Grace now?
Today, Grace is alive and well in New York City and works as a court advocate for Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), an organization that helps victims of sexual exploitation. She's 33 years old, has reunited with her twin and has began conversations with her family in search of healing.
Once a 23-year-old, 90-pound girl who was practically on her death bed, Grace is now a powerful go-getter who has been clean since those transient years.
Pike wants to give others the same chance. She wants more Graces in the world.
The Grace Foundation of Texas' Third Annual Houston Gala is on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Warehouse Live. Individual tickets start at $50, tables start at $500, and can be purchased online or by calling 512-539-0675.