T.J. Storment may be an only child, but in the past five years, he's gained at least 100 brothers.
Or so his parents like to say. Jeff and Natalie Storment started Power Cross ministries in Statesville five years ago, after seeing a ministry opportunity with the kids T.J. was befriending in public school.
The Storments, who describe themselves as a middle-class family, said many of T.J.'s classmates lived in the inner city.
"Public school is a mix of people from all shapes and walks of life," Natalie Storment said. "For us, we believe there's a great opportunity for TJ to reach to kids at his own level and show a good example to them."
The Storments found that T.J.'s friends had little in common with their son's home life. Many came from fatherless homes, and when Jeff began coaching T.J.'s third-grade basketball team, many of the boys arrived at practice in their school uniforms or didn't have a phone for the Storments to call them about practice.
The Storments wanted to help." It became overwhelmingly clear to Jeff and I that these boys needed much more than just a ride to practice and some extra clothes," Natalie wrote in an email. "Our son wanted to share our home with the boys and show them what a family could be like."
T.J. began inviting a few friends home one day a week to play, eat dinner and do homework. Six weeks later, 20 boys were coming over on Tuesdays.
So many boys needed rides to basketball practice that the Storments used part of their savings to buy a 15-passenger van. When basketball season ended, they decided to sponsor a number of the boys to play baseball - a sport most could not afford.
Their involvement continued to grow, as T.J.'s schoolmates hung out at their house, ate dinner there and played Whiffleball at a nearby park. Some of the boys began staying at their house on the weekends, and the Storments hosted Bible studies for them.
"Jeff and I began to really see the need for these boys to have more structure and guidance in all areas of their life," Natalie said.
Jeff quit his job in sales, where he made a salary of more than $100,000, to oversee Power Cross ministries - a decision Natalie wrote "took more faith than I can express in an email." Natalie, who is a professional photographer, continued to work while tutoring and cooking for the boys.
Power Cross now serves more than 200 boys ages 7-18 in Statesville. They run sports programs, tutor, serve free meals, teach Bible studies and oversee leadership programs.
The ministry recently received a $45,000 grant from Major League Baseball's Baseball Tomorrow Fund, which it has used, along with donations, to revitalize a city park in the middle of a housing development and build other sports structures.
Boys are required to have good school attendance and good behavior to take part in Power Cross.
"We are instilling in them that they should always be progressively moving forward in a positive direction," Natalie wrote in an email." We teach them that power and success are the results of preparation."
Last Sunday Power Cross hosted its fifth annual Christmas party, which boys and their families were invited to attend. Dinner was served to several hundred guests, and all children received gifts.
Natalie said boys who are part of Power Cross have made drastic improvements in school attendance and behavior. The Storments help boys set goals and make plans to go attend college.
Most of all, Natalie said, they are proud that many of the boys have grown closer to God.
As for T.J., who is now 14, Natalie said he experienced a lot of things middle-class boys his age haven't, such as sitting in a courtroom with a friend whose father was sentenced to life in prison.
She describes T.J. as having the "kindest heart of any kid I know."
The Storments now work about 70 hours a week for Power Cross, and they hope to one day have more facilities to help boys, including a cafeteria and sports training centers.
"We think we're doing what God is calling us to do," Natalie said.