August is a busy month at 6 Stones; this year, more than ever. The Hurst Euless Bedford Independent School District asked us to help rally support for 6,000 students in anticipation of the 2016-2017 school year, and — as always — the community has responded. As of Thursday morning, we had covered the cost of equipping 5,209 of those students. Over the course of eight hours tomorrow, we will see thousands of students and families come through the doors of Campus West to connect with Social Service agencies and pick out backpacks. But Operation Back 2 School is more than a one-day event, and going Back to School is about more than supplies.
Community Partnership: Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County
BEDFORD — The New Hope Center at 6 Stones buzzes as children and parents bustle into line for vaccination. A new year is upon them, and whether they like it or not, the sharp bite of inoculation is the first step toward a successful return to school. Boys and girls bounce in their seats as they await the dreaded sting, some bracing for the nip of the needle while others sit in blissful ignorance. Another line — survivors — sits with lollipops placed pensively in their mouths as they rub at fresh band-aids on bare shoulders. For the most part, the scene is calm, interrupted only occasionally by the howl of a student who wasn't quite prepared. Nobody likes shots, but everyone needs them.
In 1990, Tarrant County suffered an outbreak of measles, a viral infection that can cause serious health problems for young children. To combat the spread of the disease, a coalition of partners across the county came together to launch the Immunization Collaboration of Texas the following year. Twenty-five years later, ICTC has provided services for some 117,395 clients. With no full-time staff and a board of volunteers, the grassroots campaign continues to thrive as a 501(c)3 non-profit in partnership with other service agents across North Texas. Anita Colbert, the organization’s treasurer, has been there from the beginning.
“I started out of the trunk of my car, with a fishing tackle box and an army surplus bag,” Colbert told 6 Stones. Already active in the community, she and her tackle box were recruited to take on the outbreak. “It was a measles outbreak, and they didn’t know what to do. So they thought they’d just go back to the old-fashioned [approach], nursing going to the people.”
This year, the collaborative healthcare initiative will serve an estimated 4,500 children as they seek affordable immunizations required before they can return to school. By using a federally-funded supply of vaccine, ICTC can discount the price of an injection to cost of fees required by health department regulations: $14. A full round of immunizations for students requiring more than one, however, will run only a dollar more. According to Colbert, the majority of clients come with concerns about the affordability of treatments. The Immunization Collaboration strives to make their service available to all.
“It’s really mission work within the health department. When it started, there were kids not going to school,” Colbert said, “There’s a ton of people that have small insurance, but it doesn’t cover vaccines… Over the 25 years I’ve been doing it, it fills, now, the middle gap of people. I thought maybe we wouldn’t be busy because of Obamacare and everybody’s supposed to have insurance. And most people do have insurance, but it’s just catastrophic insurance.”
A separate fund kept in support of the organization helps families to stretch their dollars even further, paying the difference for families who can't afford even the discounted rate. Terri Andrews, who serves as Chair for the organization, says that Tarrant County boasts the only health department with active support for immunization outreach.
“Vaccines are the single greatest public health advance in history. They prevent these huge outbreaks,” Andrews said. “It’s just a feel-good thing, and you know you’re helping the community because we don’t want outbreaks. We know we’ve made a difference in Tarrant County because there have been small outbreaks… and it was totally contained to that community that is vaccine-hesitant.”
Information provided by the ICTC supports Andrews’ claim. The measles outbreak that launched the nonprofit in 1990 affected 300 people in Tarrant County. Another outbreak in 1994 — just three years into the program — was contained to a mere eight children. Public Schools now require immunization for students, which Andrews and Colbert both say increases demand for inoculation in the month long buildup to the first day of school.
As of our interviews on Thursday evening, over 530 students had received their shots on site here at 6 Stones: the first use of our remodeled and expanded New Hope Center, which will open officially later this month. It’s one of five stops the drive will make before school begins, all of them in partnership with outside organizations.
“I think, if you want to succeed, you’re going to have to [collaborate]. You can’t do everything that needs to be done on your own.” Colbert said of the need to team up with other nonprofits in order to serve a county with a population of almost two million people.
Collaboration is a key component of 6 Stones, as well. That’s why we’ve allowed the ICTC to set up in our spare space for years. That consistency has helped them to become a pillar of support in the community, their trademark Yellow Bee logo now a point of reference for families in need. The service they provide is essential for the same students we serve, but outside of the scope of our office. If we’re going to get our kids back to school, we have to work together.
“6 Stones has been fabulous. And this is a great location for us to start. It’s easy for people to get to from all different areas.” Andrews said.
The immunization drive, which operated out of the New Hope Center from August 8 through August 12, will soon pack up and leave no trace of the hundreds served here over the past week. The band-aids will fall off and the sore arms will heal, but the children served will be safe and school-approved for at least another year, at which point the drive will be waiting for them. Thanks to ICTC, those students are ready to go Back to School!
If you missed the ICTC while they were here, you can still catch them at Family Life Gym in Arlington next week and La Gran Plaza in Fort Worth on the week of August 22. For more information on the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County, visit www.ICTChome.org.
The Ultimate in Community Service
Teachers go back to school even before students do. They spend the final weeks of the summer packing supplies and rearranging desks in stuffy classrooms that have sat untouched for weeks. Sometimes they do it without air conditioning. The dog days of summer, for educators, are known as “professional development days.” For the last two years, faculty and staff at Trinity High School have begun their “development” with team building exercises. But principal Mike Harris wanted to try something different this year.
After taking a tour of 6 Stones near the end of the previous school year, Harris decided that his staff would benefit from taking their own trip across the street. He reached out to set up a visit — along with a volunteer opportunity — unaware that his team of 170-plus would become the backbone of Operation Back 2 School. On Thursday, August 11, they were put to work setting up the supply drive's infrastructure. It was a pleasant surprise, but it lined up with Harris's expectations.
“Being a teacher is being a servant. We serve. Administratively, we serve our teachers. But all of us, we serve our students, we serve our school, we serve our community, we serve society as a whole. I think that being a teacher is the ultimate in community service. We serve together, but we don’t do it by ourselves. We have partners, such as 6 Stones across the street. They help our kids so that we can do what we do,” Harris told 6 Stones.
“To emphasize how much of a servant they really are, and then to come tangibly kick off our year by serving, I think, sets a great foundation for a school year. [It reminds] them of how important the work they do truly is.”
So it was that coaches and principals, counselors and teachers, found themselves moving thousands of school supplies and kleenex boxes into temporary homes for the upcoming event. They unboxed backpacks, set up tables, and constructed curtains and divisions that will help to guide hundreds of families across the floor of Campus West. In the span of three hours, they transformed an empty room into a social service fair waiting to be staffed. And, by all accounts, they had a blast doing it.
For Harris, in particular, it was important to start the year with an attitude of service. He wanted to emphasize to his staff that the work they do during the school year, while it might be less tangible than the work they did to set up Operation Back 2 School, is just as lasting and significant.
“You don’t necessarily get to see the service impact they have in their classroom, on their students,” he said. “But I want them to know that that’s truly what they are: community servants. Their work matters.”
When the last student walks out the doors of Operation Back 2 School this Saturday, they’ll be leaving with a good foundation. They’ll have everything they need to succeed in the classroom. But they won’t succeed without the tireless work of the men and women whose service goes beyond moving boxes and placing chairs. OB2S is a starting point. The real work belongs to individual students and teachers.
And we couldn’t think of anyone who can do it better than our partners in HEB ISD.