As recent graduate Gerard Oray shares about his late mother, Tawanda Williams, his eyes brighten and a sense of pride fills his words. Williams passed away due to breast cancer in 2018 after previously beating the disease a few years earlier, in 2015. She was a woman of great character, determination, and with a heart for others and her stories live on through her son, as does her service to the community. Oray is thankful for the person she was to those around her and for the mother she was to him. He now lives every day to honor her as he looks to serve young people God places in his path.
Graduating from Grace Christian University with a degree in Business this spring was another step in following in his mother’s footsteps. “Mom always worked with kids in her community through the schools or the local church. She worked with the local Boys and Girls Club chapter and also worked for Project Lift as she was always looking to impact the younger generation coming up.” Williams set a foundation for her son by first earning a degree in Business, and using that knowledge to strengthen communities. “My goal is to continue my mom’s legacy as I hope to one day operate and lead a Boys and Girls Club,” Oray shared.
With the Boys and Girls Club as the long-term plan, Gerard is already continuing his mom’s good work by leaning into the youth in his community. The amount of young people Gerard Oray has worked with in the past few years is impressive. Whether it was coaching middle school basketball at Calvin Christian School, serving as a recess monitor at Grandville Christian Elementary or coaching at Grand River Preparatory Academy, it is obvious Oray loves the younger generation. Most recently “Coach G” was asked to assist the Grand Rapids Union Varsity Basketball team as they finished their season. Oray continues to encourage and develop young people through mentoring and investing his time, modeling success and the promise that they can follow their dreams.
“Coach G” has accepted a position through the West Michigan Drive AAU basketball team, where he will be coaching 15 and 16 year olds. He is excited to have student athletes on his team from Grand Rapids Union, Ottawa Hills, Kentwood, Forest Hills Northern as well as athletes from the homeschool community. His efforts to bring these athletes together comes with intention. “I am passionate about building a special team made up of athletes from many different cultures” he shares. “Our team will be prepared for the real world through the process of winning and losing with one another.” Built earlier this spring, the team has already been holding practices and Oray sees their promise. “It has been great to see them accept each other as they are willing to hold one another to high standards of conduct – on and off the court. This is going to be a special group.”
While he is no stranger to hardships he knows there are lessons learned that are to be shared with others. “The hard things I have gone through will help me to walk alongside my students as we do life together. My mother led by example and it is important for me to lead openly as well,” he shared as he spoke of his opportunity to lean into the next generation. “My goal is always to instill confidence, create accountability, and to build respect and integrity.”
The future is bright for Gerard Oray, and those he is leading, as he continues to guide youth with the love and commitment learned from his mother. He lives out her goal regularly as he builds character and determination in his service to those following his lead. Our world is better because of graduates like Gerard Oray. While there are many, many community members who are thankful for his heart and efforts, it is the joy his mother most certainly feels while watching from above that Oray seeks daily.
Written By: Kyle Bohl