Text by Anmarie Garcia, Principal, Oakwood Terrace Elementary
My first Night of Hope was pleasant, if somewhat uneventful. In 2010, I was an assistant principal at West Hurst Elementary. The program was new, and still growing. It was nice to see families and students sharing Christmas together, especially because I knew that many of our families would have struggled to put food on the table during the holidays without some outside help. Gifts were equally unlikely for them, and would cost money that would be better spent on something practical. I enjoyed Night of Hope for what it was: support. But I didn’t truly experience it until the next year.
By 2011, I had moved a few miles down the road to serve as an assistant principal at Bellaire Elementary. You haven’t seen a holiday party until you see Night of Hope at Bellaire.
On an average day, the school was home to about 700 students. During that night in December, I felt like there were over a thousand in the hallways alone. The sheer volume of people packed into Bellaire Elementary was jaw-dropping; overwhelming in the best possible way. I had always known that around 92% of our student population was at the poverty level, but I had never seen the need personified before. As I smiled and greeted familiar faces, it struck me how much this community needs the Night of Hope.
Even though the halls are crowded in all of my memories, one face jumps out when I think about that night: Eric.
I first met Eric and his family when I was teaching 4th grade at Oakwood Terrace. It was his first year in the United States, and Oakwood was his first American school. I will never forget Eric’s shy demeanor and great smile, nor the incredible circumstances that brought him here.
Eric came to our country without his mother, who stayed behind while he and his father came to set up a new life. During our first parent conference, Eric’s father needed help to fill out the school’s information forms because he was unable to read and write. I knew then that Eric had come to this country for something better.
The next school year, Eric told me that his mother was able to join them here. By sixth grade, Eric had a younger sibling. He held a lot of responsibility as the oldest son, so he fully expected to end up dropping out of school to work construction with his father before he walked across a stage and got his diploma. For students like him, family comes first. A piece of paper with his name on it won’t feed the family. Work will.
But here he was, standing in front of me at Night of Hope with three younger siblings in tow. He remembered me. Congratulated me on my promotion from teacher to Assistant Principal. Even made sure that I got a hug from his parents. And then he told me something incredible. 16-year-old Eric told me that he was still in school at L.D. Bell.
An Open Future
I had always worried about Eric; school did not come easy to him. He had to work really hard, so it was a great relief to know that he had stuck with it. Eventually, he transferred to a charter school, and our paths diverged for good. But I still have Night of Hope. I still have that memory of him.
As exciting as the crowd and the festivities were, I might as well have been alone in the hallway with Eric and his family. That moment was beautiful, and it only grew in my heart as I thought about the fact that the hundreds of people jamming the halls and classrooms of our school were from families like Eric’s. Hard-working families. Families who, despite their best efforts, fall short sometimes. Families who need a little love, a little joy, a little hope to move them forward.
Christmas presents won’t save anyone outright. I know that. But 6 Stones gives this community so much more than gifts and turkey dinners. Night of Hope isn’t about trying to fix everything overnight. These problems are too big for overnight solutions. But, fortunately, Night of Hope isn’t an isolated event.
Beyond Night of Hope
Families in need can go to 6 Stones for support year-round, and I honestly believe that Eric would not have been able to stay in school without their support. Seeing him with his siblings that night made me realize the true value of events like this one. They bring us together, destroying the false boundaries of class, race, and geography.
Night of Hope is about connecting people. It strengthens us. All of us. It gives hope to families who feel stuck in their situation. During those parties, students aren’t rich or poor. They aren’t locked into their fate. On this night, they are loved and provided for. They have hope.
It also reminds the rest of us — people like me — that we are blessed, and that we can bless others. It shows us what our community is capable of doing if we work together. From that night forward, I could rest assured that 6 Stones would be there for my students. I had seen it with my own eyes.
Now I’m home. Back in the school where I taught Eric — and countless other children — seven years ago. And I can’t wait to share another magical evening with my students at Oakwood Terrace Elementary. As a principal, nothing thrills me more than the knowledge that I will soon have the chance to share Hope with my students. Thank you for supporting them — and for supporting all of us in HEB ISD — through Night of Hope.
Anmarie Garcia has been an educator for 18 years, the last 10 of which were spent in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District. She served as a bilingual teacher, an assistant principal, and the district’s English as a Second Language program coordinator en route to her current role as Principal at Oakwood Terrace. Her thoughts, as recorded above, were provided as a courtesy to 6 Stones and revised with the help of our staff. To learn more about Night of Hope and how it supports children like “Eric,” visit 6stones.org/noh.