Drew Washington always knew that he wanted to be a firefighter. Raised in Keller, the former City of Hillsboro and current City of Euless employee fell in love with the profession as he watched his local fire department interact with their community. It was a natural career choice for a young man who wanted to shape his surroundings. He promised himself that he would grow up and give back. But he also promised something a little more fun: to never leave his inner child behind.
Now in his fourth year as a Fire Inspector and Investigator in Euless, Drew makes the most of every chance to get out and serve his community. He’s part of the team that writes and performs safety skits in our schools, and he loves it. But it’s not his favorite thing. That came in the form of a surprise invite to Target, courtesy of his supervisor, Ken Rawlinson. It took less than a month from the time Drew joined the fire department for him to end up Christmas shopping for at-risk kids on behalf of 6 Stones. Now, it’s a tradition.
Every November, Drew’s two promises collide in the aisles of our nearest Super Target. There, his inner child gets to save Christmas for other kids in this community.
It’s Not About the Gifts
The first 6 Stones Christmas event, then called Night of Wonder, launched in December of 2010. It served 600 students. This year, Night of Hope will provide Christmas dinner and gifts for 4,000 children. But time and again, we are reminded that the gifts aren’t the message. They’re the medium. Drew understands that.
“Without something like [Night of Hope], there’s a lot of sadness and a lot of lost individuals. The holiday season could be very bare; you just don’t look forward to it. This gives the community strength and hope… not just for one year, but I mean for years to come,” he said. “These kids see all of your work that you’re doing, and they’re going to want to provide for the generations to come, as well. That’s what I would hope, is that it would be a chain reaction.”
When Drew is picking out presents for children he’ll never meet using a numbered piece of paper as his guide, he isn’t just thinking about Christmas morning. He’s thinking beyond it. While he pictures each child and imagines their joy as they unwrap their gifts, he also pictures them growing up to provide joy for others. There’s a bit of vicarious excitement for him, of course, but the more important thing is that everyone — from the kids to their parents to the people donating so that 6 Stones can buy gifts in the first place — is connected.
Parents can do as they please with Night of Hope gifts. Some kids are told that 6 Stones provided Christmas; others get to see Mom and Dad come through for them. That choice belongs in the household. But everyone involved walks away with something you can’t fit into a wrapped box.
“There can be times where life can get really hard and get you down, sometimes you might feel alone. But knowing that the community is behind you gives you so much hope and strength,” Drew said. “That gives the parents a lot of hope, as well. That feeling to be able to provide for their child. And to know that the community is behind you, 100%.”
A Small But Meaningful Role
It only takes a handful of ‘elves’ to shop for Night of Hope. We purchase the majority of gifts in bulk ahead of time to keep costs down. But the ones that still need to be purchased give people like Drew a chance to serve their community in a unique way. It takes a special talent to do what he does, and doing it develops his capacity for charity so that he can give back in other ways.
“The holiday season doesn’t kick off without Night of Hope shopping,” Drew said. “It gets me in the spirit. It gets me in the giving mood. Not just with Night of Hope, but for my street. Helping my neighbors or my family. It’s not just about giving presents, but just helping one another out. That’s what really gets me going.”
Night of Hope serves more than 4,000 people. Every volunteer gets something, too. Serving inspires men and women who, like Drew, have the skill and desire to give back. It brings a community together and asks them to consider ways to honor and support each other outside of the holidays. In a word, volunteering is a catalyst that pushes our community to love each other well and tackle obstacles together. It shows us that we all have something to offer.
And if you think that shopping skills aren’t a valuable asset, Drew begs to differ.
Most Valuable Shopper
“I would say I’m probably the fastest now,” the Fire Inspector said. “But it’s a lot a fun, seeing everybody just kind of take their own stack and just go with it.”
Every shopper has to stick to a tight budget and meet certain criteria for each child they serve, and it’s not easy to turn a list of interests into a basket of toys that will both excite and develop a child. Much less so when the process needs to happen several hundred times in the span of a few hours. But Drew has it down to a science, expertly navigating from aisle to aisle in search of the best toy for the best price. With one exception.
“The little girls’ section, I usually have the hardest time with. I usually stick with the boys because I know exactly what they want,” said Drew, whose only child is a three-year-old boy. “If you want to slow me down, give me a stack of girls’ papers and make-up. I’m going to be stuck on page one for hours, looking at the make-up.”
While he will gladly compare times with the other shoppers, Drew is quick to confess that he consistently needs to phone a friend when shopping for girls. Luckily, his wife of six years, Amber, is a ready resource.
“She is definitely my rock. She’s the one who keeps me together. Anytime I need advice, she’s the one I go to,” the firefighter said.
When it comes down to it, even one of our Most Valuable Shoppers needs a little help to make a difference. And that’s what 6 Stones is about: connecting the dots. No one has the skills or resources to tackle a problem alone, but we can get some incredible things done if each of us contributes. The mark this December is 4,000 students at $65 each.
So, what do you say? Will you be the Amber to our Drew?