Gary McKamie was 19 years old when he started working for the City of Euless, and he had no idea what was in store for him at the time. He didn’t know what the next step would be. He didn’t have a long-term plan. He had no idea if and when he would leave the city. He just wanted to work. 42 years after joining the Euless Police Department in 1973, he retired from a post as the City Manager in the same place he began his career. For Gary, Euless was home. It grew on him, even as he grew into it.
Gary’s path looks like a hard-nosed mountain trail, trending upward until his retirement in 2015. Beginning with a post in the EPD, he rose through the ranks to assist and later become the Chief of Police. That pattern repeats itself again in the more political city office, where he served as Deputy City Manager on his way to the main post. It wasn’t until a few years before he gained the position that he even began to imagine it as a possibility, but the job was a perfect fit. After all, Gary just wanted was to make his home a better place.
“There was just always something special about Euless,” Gary told 6 Stones in a recent interview. “I grew to love the community; love the people. We loved our church. Our kids were born and raised there. The school district was wonderful for our kids. It was our home, and we wanted to do all we could to take care of our home and to make it even better.”
While he would certainly refuse most of the credit, the city has been trending steadily upward for a long time. Euless is consistently named one of the best places in America to raise a family, and per capita income in the area is rising despite various pockets of families in need. Euless seems to be growing across the board, and Gary thinks that the citizens themselves are responsible. He says that there’s a unique spirit of collaboration, a healthy pride, that lives in the community and makes it strong and unique.
We’ve said the same about all of our cities for a long time. Our friends and neighbors are generous and loving, cheerful and compassionate. Without them, we would fall apart. But it took something special to stir up that latent energy and turn it into the incredible volunteerism and grace we now see every day through our programs. It took a few leaders who were bold enough to ask a question, and crazy enough to pursue its answer. In January of 2008 — before 6 Stones had even been born, and barely a year into Gary’s tenure as City Manager– a small team from First Baptist Church of Euless asked him a simple question: “What do you need?”
Several months and many open conversations later, the church and the city partnered to launch a home repair initiative called Euless Revitalization. The program, which has now serviced over 400 homes under the name Community Powered Revitalization (CPR), tended to only two houses in its first year. In the brutal July heat, those two homes were no small task. But the end result was worth the sweat. A pair of sisters, one of whom couldn’t work while the other walked to McDonalds every day to earn the family’s only income, saw their home rescued from conditions Gary described as unfit for humans. Elsewhere in Euless, a Vietnam veteran stuck in a cockroach-infested home was granted relief of his own. A little work made a big difference for those two families, and in the years that followed, that work would prove to be the first step in something much bigger.
In the two major CPR blitzes last year, some 3,403 volunteers and 164 churches and groups gave up their weekends to build a better community through service. By contrast, there were only two churches and a handful of volunteers in 2008. First Baptist Church of Euless adopted one home, and Restoration Church (now CityLife Church) tackled the other. Without trying to, the ragtag group selected a pair of homeowners who were also members of First Baptist. The shock of discovering such need hidden in their own congregation still stands out for Gary to this day; a sobering reminder that we often assume the best of our own surroundings. The need next door is sometimes the hardest one to see. But a need had been identified by both the city and the Church, and it wasn’t going away.
During his interview, Gary confessed that he never thought the little partnership between two churches and one city would amount to much. It was a great idea, but it seemed like the kind of thing that gets people excited in the short term and then fades away. He expected the community’s enthusiasm to carry the home repairs for a few years before it died, leaving churches and government officials to find their next project. Instead, it became that backbone of 6 Stones: a coalition launched in the wake of the ER program that has grown to include half a dozen cities, a top-rated school district, and droves of church and business affiliates. According to the former City manager, that unexpected development is rooted in a simple concept: everyone has reason to invest in the community, if only we give everyone a place to hang their hat.
“Without the Community, the Church doesn’t have members. The Government doesn’t have taxes. The school doesn’t have children to educate. The businesses have no business; no profits. So we all invest in the community,” Gary said. “There doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser. If you will just set your individual preference aside and work for the greater good, there’s something everyone can hang their hat on.”
The idea that individuals and groups with different motivations and beliefs could all rally around a common goal came to shape Gary’s understanding of 6 Stones, which developed into a metaphorical hat rack shared by anyone looking for a place to fit in and serve. The community itself became a board into which various nails could be driven: education for the school district, infrastructure for the cities, and spiritual development for churches. While some lines had to be drawn to keep government funds away from religious interests, it would prove to be fairly easy to give everyone their space on the community board.
“It is extremely unifying. It’s groups working together that people often think may be pulling in different directions,” McKamie said. “There’s different motivations that people have in trying to achieve the same thing. But if you can find a means by which everyone can play a part, everyone can fulfill their own needs for a common goal; everyone gets a little credit. Everyone gets some satisfaction. It allows everyone to pull in the same direction.”
And pull they have. In the seven years since Gary and his team took a chance on 6 Stones, we have revitalized 419 homes. Together with our partners, we have provided 94,463 individuals with emergency food and clothing through the New Hope Center. We have provided 16,829 children with school supplies through Operation Back 2 School, with another 6,000 in the wings next month. 18,500 kids have received Christmas gifts and meals through Night of Hope. Between partners in government, schools, businesses, churches, and nonprofits, we have leveraged and invested $7,115,217 and 218,187 volunteer hours into this community. We are blessed to be at the center of an incredible union of men and women who want to change the world, one home/child/classroom/family at a time.
That never would’ve happened without Gary and his desire to do more.
“I had been, as I would describe it, under a conviction for a while that the church was looking at foreign missions — not that there’s anything wrong with foreign missions, I’m a big supporter of foreign missions — however, they were overlooking the mission field in our own backyard, in our own community. There was a tremendous amount of need in our community that was not being met, in my mind,” Gary said of those first conversations, adding “I think the perception in most suburban communities is that [poverty] is an inner city, larger city problem; it doesn’t exist in Hurst, Euless, and Bedford or anyplace else. The fact of the matter is that it probably exists in every community around. Some of the portion of this that has been so rewarding is just people having their eyes opened that there’s need everywhere. There’s no end to the need. There’s need right under your nose… there’s mission work that can be done in your own backyard.”
This community has awakened to that need, and responded with unparalleled strength. The people we work with may wear different hats and hang them on different nails, but we’ve succeeded because of that diversity, not in spite of it. Some jobs call for specific outfitting, and the collection we’ve been able to assemble here has never failed to turn up the right person in the right hat at just the right time. Becoming a community hat rack is the best decision we’ve ever made, and we’re grateful that you choose to hang your hat here.
There’s nothing more beautiful than a home with its entryway decorated in all manner of coats and accessories. Such a collection means that the entire family is gathered under one roof. All those hats mean something, but it isn't things that turn a house into a home; it’s the people they represent. This place is home because you’ve chosen to hang your hat here. We can’t imagine it without you.