A Portal boy who saved his family’s life from a house fire in December was surprised Saturday when he walked into a “hero celebration” in his honor.
Tyvaccea Heard, 10, was speechless when he walked into The Clubhouse to find several Georgia Southern University football players, "GUS" the Eagles' mascot and GSU Head Football Coach Jeff Monken awaiting his arrival.
“Tav” and his siblings also enjoyed honorary badges and fire hats from the Statesboro Police and Fire Departments, pizza and games, and a fire truck cake designed by Katie NeSmith of Brooklet.
The event honoring Tav was organized by Pray it Forward Bulloch County, a local charitable organization.
After Monken presented Tav with a football autographed by team members, he and his daughters enjoyed pizza, cake and games with the team, Tav and his two brothers and sister.
“They are excited, all of them,” said Diane Williams, a family friend who brought the children to the surprise event.
Tav lives with his grandmother and several other family members, she said. When their wood frame house in Portal caught fire late one night in December, Tav saw the flames through cracks in the house and tried to warn his family.
They didn’t believe him, Williams said.
Still, Tav persisted, dragging his grandmother out of her bed after going outside and seeing flames reaching for the sky.
Everyone escaped the burning house, but lost all their belongings. The family faces financial challenges, and the day out at The Clubhouse was a treat for the kids, she said.
“This is something they have never had,” she said. “It’s like Christmas.”
Darin Van Tassell with the Clubhouse donated game cards, two bowling lanes, drinks and pizza. NeSmith donated the cake, and Monken and his team gave their time to make the day special.
Monken spoke with Tav at length while handing over the treasured football, to which the young man clung throughout the day. He watched as team members bowled, played video games and laser tag with the guest of honor and his siblings.
“We are very proud to be here today to honor Tav,” Monken said. “It is certainly inspiring to see a young man of only 10 years of age who cares enough to save his entire family form a burning house, with no concern for his own safety. He’s a real hero, and he should be a reminder to us all put others before ourselves.”
Tav appeared to be overwhelmed by the attention and was shy about discussing the fire.
“I wasn’t scared,” he said, recalling the night the house burned. Making sure his family was safe “made me feel good.”
Pray it Forward founders said they wanted to organize the party as a “thank you” for the young man’s bravery.
“The surprise and joy on (Tav’s) face when Coach Monken gave him the GSU football signed by the team was just totally awesome,” said co-founder Keith Brinson.
“His face that showed his quiet gratitude and humbleness for the whole scenario — strangers showing their appreciation of him,” he said. “Our local police department and fire department showing up was spectacular.”
He and other co-founders Jennifer Sheffield, Christy Lanier and Holli Bragg expressed thanks to those who made the event possible.
“The Clubhouse was wonderful in what they did, and special thanks to Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner for sending police and firefighters,” Bragg said. “Also, the fire truck cake by Katie NeSmith was just delicious. Tav asked if it was his to take home, and was really excited to learn he could share it with the rest of his family.”
She agreed the highlight of the day was Monken and his team spending the special time with the children.
“Tav is especially proud of the football, and we all teared up a little to see the team members treating the children like their own little brothers and sisters.”
Pray it Forward also presented Tav and his siblings with gifts of toys, including a remote control police car for the hero.