Wells delivers Perfect 10 to families in need

Wells delivers Perfect 10 to families in need

QUINLAN, Texas -- Children were looking for anything that could be autographed by Vernon Wells. Some found scraps of paper, one held out a dollar and others rolled up their sleeves and asked the Blue Jays center fielder if he would pen his name on their arms.

"Can you sign my shoe?" asked one boy.

Wells smiled, watching as the boy reached down to retrieve one of his sneakers. Another child followed suit. And then another. They held out their shoes and Wells happily obliged, signing a name that some of them had never heard of before Tuesday.

"The kids don't care," Wells said. "They say, 'Oh, he plays baseball, that's great.'"

On this morning, in the rural East Texas town of Quinlan, Wells stepped away from baseball to take part in an event that he knows is more important than any of his accomplishments on the diamond. Wearing a white hard hat, Wells joined his wife, Charlene, and five others in driving shovels into the earth and breaking ground on the first major project of Wells' Perfect 10 Foundation.

The site -- roughly 45 miles east of Dallas -- will be the future home of two buildings that will house eight underprivileged families at the Boles Children's Home campus, which is operated by the Arms of Hope foundation. Thanks in part to the contributions of Wells and his charitable foundation, the apartments will help single mothers in need.

Before the groundbreaking ceremony, children from the campus headed over to meet Wells and witness the event. As they held out their shoes during the impromptu autograph session, Wells probably thought back to the moment that convinced him and his wife to establish the Perfect 10 Foundation.

In 2007, Wells and his wife accompanied Michael Young, the Rangers third baseman and a close friend, as well as some other players and their wives on a charitable shopping trip for local kids in Arlington. The 16 children in tow lived in a rundown motel -- only 10 minutes from where Wells was raised -- and were exposed to terrible living conditions in single-parent situations.

The venture aimed to buy basic necessities for the kids. The children were brought to a local store and broke into groups of two or three for each player. Wells smiled as he recalled the boys they helped asking for suits to wear to chapel. When the day was over, Wells said all the price tags were removed so the parents would not be tempted to return the items for drug money.

"We had a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, both boys, brothers," Wells recalled. "The 3-year-old didn't say a word. He was attached to his brother. His brother pretty much took care of him. I remember kneeling down to take off the 3-year-old's shoes, because we we were buying them shoes and socks. I nearly fell over from the smell. His socks were black. You could see the day-to-day neglect that they go through."

It was a moment that Wells said changed their lives. He and Charlene have two boys of their own, 7-year-old Jayce and 4-year-old Christian, so the experience struck a chord.

"I held [my wife] while she cried," Wells said. "It was a an emotional experience. We have boys of our own, and to watch kids go through what they go through, whether it be choices made by their parents or tragic incidents, it's never the kids' fault. They're the ones that have to go through it."

Wells said the children they helped were exposed to drug use, alcoholism and even prostitution in some cases. He added, though, that taking the kids away from their parents was not the answer. Through his foundation, Wells wanted to find a way to place the single mothers into situations where they could lead good lives to help their children.

"We realized we've got to start educating the mothers," Wells said, "and empowering the mothers to be able to be that backbone of the family. That's why we partnered with Arms of Hope."

Wells said he toured the Boles Children's Home in Quinlan shortly before Spring Training. Part of the facility serves as an alternative to foster care for some kids, while another area is for the Together Program, which houses single mothers and their children. In all, the 250-acre campus will be able to host 25 single-mother families after Wells' assistance, according to Arms of Hope CEO Kevin McDonald.

Wells and his wife knew the Arms of Hope campus was perfect for their cause.

"That's what's great about this program," Wells said. "They take everybody in and they break the cycle, and educate them and get them to the place where they can provide for the family."

Shortly before the ceremony on Tuesday, Wells was approached by 75-year-old Lucy Fullerton, who fought back tears as she thanked him for the work of his foundation. When Fullerton was 3, she moved into the Boles Children's Home, which was first established in 1924. She did not hesitate when asked where she would be without the early assistance.

"I would be uneducated," Fullerton said. "I'm really so grateful, I feel like crying."

Fullerton stayed on the campus through high school and met her husband soon afterward during college. She said she now has three sons who are doctors and a daughter who earned a degree in social work.

"That's not bragging," Fullerton said. "I know where that came from. It's because people cared for us."

Wells is doing what he can to keep that cycle going, and he knows that will mean more in the long run than anything he does on a baseball field.

"Ten years down the line, nobody's going to care what I did [in baseball]," Wells said. "This is the opportunity to make an impact on a much grander scale. You start changing life, you start impacting people from within, that's where you make your mark in this life."

Sometimes, that mark might be on a shoe.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.