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Local GM helps make
child’s dream come true


By Alex Welch
Assistant Editor 

  A single phone call resulted in a life-changing event for one local family. Chris Speed, the general manager of Southside Steve’s in McDonough, received a call last week from a distressed mother looking to make her child’s dream come true. Joyce Gray wanted to take her daughter to the One Direction concert on Friday, June 21, at Philips Arena in Atlanta, but she couldn’t acquire tickets. “I’ve been working on this project for about a year now, and I’ve called everyone and nobody has helped me or returned my calls,” said Gray.

Chris Speed, General Manger of Southside Steve’s, presents Kaitlyn Gray with two tickets to the One Direction concert at Philips Arena.                                         Photo by Alex Welch

  If you’re not familiar with One Direction, it’s a boy band that originated in London, England. The group came together on the reality show The X-Factor and quickly took the music industry by storm. They also captured the heart of Gray’s daughter, Kaitlyn.

  Kaitlyn, who suffers from cerebral palsy, had a stroke when she 13 months old, damaging the left side of her brain. Today she is unable to see out of her right eye and has difficulty using her right hand. But something about the band seems to help her improve altogether.

  “I don’t know what it is about these kids, but nobody’s ever affected her like this,” said Gray. Since discovering One Direction, Gray says her daughter is more active, she’s happier and she’s even doing better in school, becoming a straight-A student. “Anything and everything that has One Direction on it, she has to have,” said Gray.

  With time winding down, Gray remained determined to find someone to help her cause. “I listen to Southside Steve on the radio all the time, and her teacher told me I needed to call,” she said. This time, she wasn’t ignored.

  Speed says Southside Steve’s receives calls all the time about donating to various causes, and while the bar aids multiple charities, this one stood out to him. “The mother actually called and left a message for Steve. I returned the phone call, and she proceeded to tell me about her daughter,” said Speed. “This story for some reason caught me, and I just felt compelled to do whatever I could to make a little girl’s dream come true.”

  Speed said he started reaching out to everyone he knew. “I posted on Facebook asking people to help us out. I talked to my vendors. All of my DJs here donated. Southside Steve donated,” said Speed. He also said a local cheer team donated a couple hundred dollars. In less than a week, he raised $600. Finding tickets for sale, though, proved to be another arduous task.

  Most One Direction concerts sell out within minutes of tickets becoming available. Their show at Philips Arena sold out last year. Speed said he searched Craigslist and encountered some listings that appeared to be scams, but he ultimately found what he was looking for from a woman also in need of help. “I finally found a lady out in Fayetteville that had a pair of tickets that she had bought for her daughter but had to sell them because her brother is blind, and he just got evicted from his home. So she needed to raise money to help him get into another place,” said Speed. “And I’d raised exactly $600, so I asked the lady, ‘How much are you asking for these tickets?’ and I told her the story about the little girl.’”

  His $600 turned out to be exactly the right amount. “She said she had to have $600. I just kind of thought that was a blessing.  It happened to help two different families at once,” said Speed.

  But he didn’t stop there. Speed wanted to make sure the family wasn’t going to pay anything during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I purchased the tickets from her and continued to raise money so they could go to the show and not have any out-of-pocket expense,” said Speed.

  He invited the family to meet him at Southside Steve’s after letting Gray know he accomplished his goal. “She, of course, broke down in tears and thanked me,” said Speed, talking about their phone conversation. Everything was a complete surprise to Kaitlyn, though. The family showed up, and   Speed talked to them for a few minutes. Eventually, he revealed the tickets to Kaitlyn and told her she was going to see her favorite band in person. She gave him a hug while her parents tried to hold back tears. “She will never forget this,” said Gray. The family was elated and continuously thanked Speed for all he did. What were Kaitlyn’s thought about going to the concert? “I’m going to freak out,” she said.

  Kaitlyn and her mother went to Atlanta for an event they’ll likely cherish forever. Whenever they look back on that night, the kindness of Speed and those who helped donate will always resonate.



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