BEDFORD– The winter sun crests Pennington Field, throwing what warmth it can offer across the turf that local students call home. In the parking lot where many of them will learn to drive, a throng of people gather to raise funds in support of those who will go without this Christmas. The stadium, home to LD Bell and Trinity High Schools, finds itself host to an unusual sight: 5 buses, each linked to a length of heavy-duty cargo strap, bask in the morning light as they wait for perhaps the most meaningful minute of competition the stadium will host all year.
City employees, teachers and school district employees have come out in droves on what should be the final morning of their work week. Other buses across the district have only just finished their rounds of morning service, yet these stand at attention; banners draped across their front grills. Police officers, mayors, band directors and rugby players mill around the lot in a state of lukewarm disarray as the Christmas stylings of Shane & Shane drift over their meeting ground. No one is where they ought to be, and everyone is determined to drag several tons of public transportation at a speed slightly greater than their neighbor. To the outside observer, the community must appear mad.
Maybe they are. In the best of ways, the people of Hurst, Euless and Bedford are just a little unhinged. They believe, in spite of the tragedy swarming in world headlines, in a world made brighter by its inhabitants. They believe in friendly competition. They believe in giving of what they have so that others may have just as much. We're blessed to say that they believe in 6 Stones.
Every year, we marvel at the way men and women from our cities rally around the work that we do here. When Pulling for Hope — the annual bus pull in support of our Night of Hope initiative — was first announced, we were delighted. When it was first completed, however, we were blown away. This community consistently generates over $100,000 in mere moments, all of which is wrapped in the trappings of the holidays and handed to local children with a tag reading “We Believe in You.”
Even more striking than the monumental financial victory it delivers, however, is the air of compassionate joy that comes with the bus pull. Nowhere else will you find city mayors looping themselves into a harness and straining with pleasure alongside their staff to drag tens of thousands of pounds of steel, glass an rubber. Ditto rugby-playing high school graduates and warrior princesses.
Teams from the cities of Euless, Bedford and Hurst, along with squads drawn from the school district and Classic Chevrolet actually vie for the opportunity. They pride themselves on it to the extent that playful trash talk and rumors of accidental set-backs proliferate in the moments immediately preceding and following the 20-40 seconds it takes for the competition to run its course. The bragging rights won on the concrete here seem to be invaluable for the 365 days between each pull. But there's more at stake in their lending of money and muscle than a place on the trophy.
“We're just here for the community. My boys, we're all from Euless or the HEB area. A lot of our guys just want to give back what's been given to us,” said a representative from the Euless Texans Rugby team, who were recruited to join school board, police department and library employees on the city's team. “We love our community. We love the city. We love helping out. So any chance we can get, you know? It's all glory to God, too. Praise the Lord for having this kind of miracle or blessing for another family. We're all for that.”
In a total team effort, those without the athletic prowess of rugby enthusiasts found other ways to lend their talents to the city's push for first place. For the Euless Public Library, the Pull for Hope began weeks before any buses or competitors gathered. Looking for a creative way to help the cause, city officials and librarians turned the facility's event room into a catering facility. For a mere $5 per ticket, staff around the city were welcomed to food and fellowship amongst the stacks of books and computer terminals that make the venue a staple of life for many families in Euless.
“Libraries, in particular, are changing. We're not really just book warehouses anymore. We are in the community. We are doing community outreach. We want to see the community succeed and be the best it can, just like [6 Stones] and the whole city does,” said Sherry Knight, the Library Administrator in Euless. She says that parents and students alike make use of the resources afforded by the library, some of them even using the building's computers to apply for aid through 6 Stones.
“We have tons of kids of all ages — from elementary on up — that will come over to the library after school, on their way home. We get a lot of traffic from there… you get to know kids, you know their stories, you know where they're from. You see them walking back and forth. We have some kids that don't have anywhere else to go after school. That's an issue, as well. We occasionally see kids who are hungry. They're here all day and all night until closing and they haven't had anything to eat.”
Because of their unique position within the city's educational and lifestyle infrastructure, library staff find themselves rooted in the community. They've partnered with 6 Stones for years, and they work closely with HEBISD Family Service Center lead Ellen LoBue to identify and serve the economically disadvantaged and homeless students within the district.
“You might not realize that there are x number of homeless teens that are going to HEB schools,” Knight said. “It's easy to forget because we're all blessed with plenty. There's a lot of people who aren't.”
As always, however, this community chooses to see disparity as opportunity. Much as students in our schools may sometimes struggle to find food or shelter, they have something just as valuable on their side: the loving support of their neighbors. Together, men and women from each city and school give willingly of themselves to support anyone who would otherwise go without. And their selflessness is rewarded.
With their creative and generous staff leading the charge, the City of Euless was in prime position to claim their place atop the Pulling for Hope standings long before they (and their rugby recruits) crossed the finish line in a sizzling 22 seconds. Despite a few miscues, however, their rivals gave them plenty of reason to sweat. Several crews finished close to the scintillating time posted by the winners of the race itself and, with bonuses granted for funds raised, kept the pressure on until the final tallies were announced. In the minds of many participants, however, there can be no losers on mornings like this one.
“We did [get edged out last year], but it was for a good cause,” noted a fireman from the Euless team before the competition began. “It was a good opportunity to raise more money. We give all glory to God for that blessed opportunity that we got, and that Euless especially got blessed with. It was a good competition last year.”
It proved to be a better one this year. Despite late charges from the City of Bedford and the school district, Euless came away victorious. As always, the good-natured chatter following the pull was rife with rumors of emergency brake mishaps and fateful stumbles alongside jealous notations about the winning team's recruitment strategy. But Euless was a worthy winner this year. The athleticism of their team was certainly a factor, but it was their total team effort that put them in position to succeed long before the buses hit the lot at Pennington Field.
As with everything we do, no particular skill set wins the day for teams at Pulling for Hope. It was the joint creativity of city employees and the sheer force of citizens that combined to give Euless the edge this year, and we fully expect the competition to grow more jovially intense as our community continues to invest in itself. Even though team leads from Hurst gave pulling pointers to their peers and LD Bell band director Van Matthews joked about the “speed and brawn” of the school district's Fine Arts Department, the key component in every competitor was simple: they cared. The same as volunteers and partners who help us transform this community at every other event we run. We couldn't do what we do unless we had a community this passionate and engaged.
“We're going to have a lot of fun with this,” said the District's Director of Visual/Performing Arts, Mark Chandler, before the race. “This is a great challenge for us. I know that HEBISD alone has raised over $30,000 for 6 Stones today. This a great effort and we are honored to be a part of it.”
Thanks to the love and concern of leaders throughout every sector of every city we serve, we're racing toward our goal of 3,500 Christmases delivered to disadvantaged children in HEBISD. This community set a new record by raising $142,000 through Pulling for Hope, and we're proud to say that we expect them to continue to inspire us with their commitment to transforming this region one person at a time.
They're just crazy enough to pull it off.