By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
As his birthday party continued, 5-year-old Mekhi was suddenly worried.
He saw the tears streaming down the face of his mom, Shauntel Norman.
“You happy?” Mekhi asked, concern written all over his face.
Indeed Shauntel was.
A month earlier, Shauntel and Mekhi came from a rough situation in Missouri.
“We got displaced,” Shauntel said.
It was a chance encounter that led to the blessing Tuesday at the Keizer Community Center.
“I knew about this, but I didn’t know if anyone would show up,” Shauntel said in the room filled with friends, food and gifts for Mekhi. “This is amazing.”
Last month, officer Eric Jefferson with the Keizer Police Department was leaving a call at Simonka Place, where Shauntel and Mekhi had just moved.
Mekhi came forward and introduced himself to Jefferson.
“He said, ‘I’m 4 but I have a birthday coming up, on Tax Day,’” Jefferson recalled. “I said, ‘When’s that?’ He said, ‘April 15.’”
Jefferson was quickly impressed. But more was to come.
“He’s so full of life,” the officer said. “We’ve got a connection. He asked if I wanted to come to his birthday party. When I said yes, he said, ‘OK, but you will need to change, because your uniform will scare people.’”
When Jefferson got back to the office that day, he knew what needed to be done.
“I saw the need for a 5-year-old to have a 5-year-old birthday party,” Jefferson said. “There was definitely a need. I went to Lt. (Andrew) Copeland and said here’s what we need. Copeland said, ‘Make it happen.’”
Shauntel was amazed by the fast – and tight – bond her son formed with Jefferson.
“They connected pretty quick,” she said. “Officer Jefferson adopted us into his family. His son (Alan) is Mekhi’s big brother. Mekhi calls Eric his uncle.. This is a blessing in disguise. I lost a brother, but I gained a brother.”
Wanda Blaylock with KPD helped put the room together on Tuesday at city hall.
“Officer Jefferson fell for the kid and wanted to make this day special for him,” Blaylock said. “We were told he likes dinosaurs, trucks and police officers.”
Help came from elsewhere as well.
Steve Vanderhoof, manager of the Keizer Safeway, brought cake, ice cream and pop. He stayed for the party.
“Officer Jefferson asked if we could help,” Vanderhoof said. “It’s heartwrenching what this family had to go through. It’s so great that officer Jefferson wants to break the cycle of heartbreak Mekhi has had to go through. This shows him there are good people out there and that we love him. You want to do more, but this is a good start.”
At 4 p.m., Jefferson picked up Mekhi and his mom, then brought them to the party. A round of applause broke out as Jefferson held Mekhi’s hand and walked him to his table at the front of the room.
“All of these people are here for you,” Jefferson told Mekhi before walking him around the room to meet everyone.
As Mekhi met the friends and KPD personnel in the room, Shauntel took it all in.
“I never expected it to lead to this, not at all,” she said. “I didn’t think this would happen.”
Jefferson doesn’t hide his feelings about Mekhi.
“About a month ago, I got to meet a phenomenal kid,” Jefferson said. “He’s so loving and caring, all heart. He radiates life. Mekhi embraces you. He’s infectious. He draws you in with his zest for life. This is a great experience.”
As he sat in front of a police cake with his name on it and a piece of pizza brought in by Dave Walery of Walery’s Premium Pizza, Mekhi had the type of questions one might expect from a 5-year-old.
“How did everyone get here?” he asked at one point.
Mekhi was impressed with the party.
“I like it,” he said.
While everyone munched on the pizza, Jefferson talked about the significance of the day.
“We all came together as a community to celebrate a boy we love,” Jefferson said. “This is what community is about, caring for and loving each other. We’re here for this little guy we all love.”