As soon as Toby Keith stepped off his tour bus, the four kids’ faces lit up with wide smiles.
The world knows Keith as a country star, but more importantly for these kids who are in various stages of battling cancer, they know Keith as something much more: He’s part of the family.
These Tulsa-area kids have all stayed at the Toby Keith Foundation’s OK Kids Korral, where they live with their families while receiving treatment at Oklahoma City hospitals, at no cost.
“That’s been everything. It’s hard to describe,” said Shawn Robinson, whose step-daughter Arleigh Williams, 9, of Claremore, got to meet Keith on Friday night before his show at the BOK Center and got to stay and see Keith perform. “There’s no way this would have worked without them.”
The facility opened in early 2014 and has provided a comfortable home for hundreds of families, said Juliet Bright, executive director of the foundation.
Keith spent time backstage hanging out with the kids, rustling their hair and giving hugs, taking time to talk to them and welcome them to the show.
“It shows you the whole state of Oklahoma needed the Korral,” Keith said Friday after meeting the kids. “It’s Ritz-Carlton mixed with Disney World.”
But with a distinctive Oklahoma flair.
The Toby Keith Foundation formed in 2006 with the goal of providing a high quality of life for children and families battling cancer.
Friday night’s concert was a chance for the kids — Hayden Scott, Kyrian Anderson and Maria Eubanks in addition to Arleigh — to see a new side of Keith, besides the guy who comes to visit the Korral.
“These kids hear he helped found the house,” Bright said. “But now they see why he’s famous.”
The arena Friday was packed with fans, watching Oklahoma-native Keith’s first performance at the BOK Center.
And when it comes to the foundation, Keith said he hopes to be spending more time up the Turner Turnpike.
“I’d like to build one up here in Tulsa at some point,” Keith said. “But this is a $16 (million)-$17 million thing.”
The foundation holds annual fundraisers and has seen its work expand. Steady growth has helped achieve those goals and look toward the future, Keith said.
Keith said he knows the highs and lows of spending time with the kids. But the comfort and safety provided by the OK Kids Korral is invaluable.
“There’ve been a lot of tears in the chapel, but a lot of joy when they ring that bell at the hospital,” Keith said.
Article written by: Jerry Wofford, Tulsa World