Text by Britney Bowen, HEB ISD
Operation Back 2 School is one of my favorite things. Seriously. I love 6 Stones and everything they do, but I am crazy about Operation Back 2 School. Maybe it’s because I teach at the Buinger Career and Technical Education Academy. Maybe it’s because I’ve been directly involved with the program for years. But I think it’s more than that. My family operates a charitable foundation, and every time we offer a grant to 6 Stones, I can be sure that the money is really going to help kids. Not just any kids, either. Local kids. My kids!
While our foundation has been supporting OB2S for some time, 2016 was my first chance to attend the event. It absolutely blew my mind. I teared up, and not for the reason you’d expect. Watching little kids get excited about school is awesome. There are all kinds of cute little boys and girls in line to pick out a backpack at any given point in the day.
But the coolest thing for me was to see several of my previous students right there with me to volunteer. Until you’re on the floor of the event, watching kids from your class using their native Arabic to guide families through the social service fair, you can’t possibly appreciate the size of Operation Back 2 School.
Trust me, I’ve sat on the sidelines. It’s nowhere near as awesome as jumping on board.
Introduction to Charitable Giving
I was teaching at Bedford Junior High when I first heard about 6 Stones. At the time, I only knew them as the people who came to collect canned food during the Black and Blue Showdown. I was in charge of the school’s social media pages, so I ended up posting a lot about our nonprofit friends.
Between those posts and coverage for the yearbook that I sponsored, I ended up having to do a lot of research on the organization. After about 5 minutes on their website, I was encouraged to see that someone was serving HEB families, specifically. Over the next few years, my interest and involvement with 6 Stones increased tremendously.
In my third year of teaching, I convinced my yearbook students to run the Run for Hope with me. It was the perfect ending to a long year of hard work. I honestly expected just to show up and run/walk with my kids. Once again, it proved to be a bigger experience than I could have imagined.
Walking out to the finish line, I was amazed at the sheer volume of people who came out to support 6 Stones. I think we all know that HEB is big and that lots of people live here, but it’s easy to forget just how many people there are until you see them all gathered together. To look out over rows of vendors and a swarm of community members and students was inspiring.
At this point, it might be helpful for me to confess that I grew up in a small, country town called Jacksboro, about two hours northwest of the metroplex. So maybe big crowds are just something I’ll never get used to. But there’s something special about a 6 Stones event; something inspirational and exhilarating. These aren’t just big crowds. These are massive groups of like-minded people who all love and care about their community.
When I look out over OB2S — or any 6 Stones event, really — I don’t see thousands of people. I see one community. And that makes me feel like HEB is a little slice of perfection. The populations of these towns may be quite large, but I definitely get that hometown feeling.
My students are all Secondary kids, so they don’t show up for the one-day social service extravaganza that is Operation Back 2 School. Their supplies are delivered right to the school, and usually, they pick them up at registration. It’s harder for those kids because they’re at the age where you start to become aware of stigma and shame. Sometimes, I worry that they’ll miss out because their pride won’t let them take anything for free.
But the beauty of OB2S is that the logistics have been worked out perfectly on both sides of the line. Discretion is key to both 6 Stones and HEB ISD, and they built this event with the students and their families in mind. You’d never know the difference between a student they helped and a student who didn’t need it.
More than half of all students in HEB ISD are economically disadvantaged. 6 Stones helps their families directly. With so many charitable organizations in North Texas, I can’t imagine those families getting help if it didn’t come from people who live here.
Our community is changing demographically, and I’m not sure people realize how drastic that change is. But as long as we have 6 Stones, we’ll be ready for whatever comes our way. Not because they’re some amazing solution to all of our problems, but because they help us to be the solution ourselves.
If you haven’t seen the ebb and flow of volunteers at Operation Back 2 School, the sea of colors and smiles that fills that massive room, you might be inclined to worry about the future. I did.
I worried that my students would go unequipped. That they would waste their talents because they were dealt a bad hand and had to settle for a job rather than chase a passion into a career. I’ve seen it happen to some of the best students.
But when you stand in the middle of thousands of people who love this community and the people in it, those worries fade. It’s hard to despair when there’s so much love around you.
Philanthropy, Activism, and You
Let’s not exaggerate: a box of school supplies and a new backpack aren’t going to radically alter a child’s life. But not having those things, year after year, can really weigh on a student. That pride and shame mechanic I mentioned above kicks in, and it becomes more and more difficult to engage.
Can you imagine having to go to school every day, knowing that you can’t do what your classmates can do just because they are prepared and you are not? Can you imagine what it feels like to know that your problems aren’t really your fault, but you still can’t escape them?
Now, can you imagine what it would feel like to walk into a room full of people who want to help you with those problems?
That’s what Operation Back 2 School does for these students. Even the older kids who pick up their supplies privately on registration day get to go home knowing that someone loves them and believes in them.
They get to receive their supplies directly from a teacher who earnestly wants them to succeed. And, when they’re taking all of their new supplies out of the box and prepping for that first day of school, they can reflect on the fact that every item they pack was paid for by someone they don’t know. Someone who believes in them enough to help them succeed.
Britney Bowen teaches at the Buinger Career and Technical Education center in Bedford, TX. She spent several years in the broadcast industry before coming to work in HEB ISD. She spent 4 years at Bedford Junior High before obtaining her current position. Britney and her husband live with two puppies, Maggie and Ellie, in Hurst. Her thoughts, as expressed above, appear here as a courtesy of 6 Stones. Our staff assisted in the creation of this post, but the emotions and ideas belong to her. If you'd like to join Britney at OB2S this year, you can sign up to help through Eventbrite or adopt a student for $30.