Students at South Euless Elementary start every day the same way: with a warm greeting from their counselor, Stacy Cave. On the morning of our film shoot — which took place during Red Ribbon Week, a national anti-drug campaign that usually involves thematic costume days — Cave stands at the splitting point of the school’s entryway. It’s Superhero Day, so she’s wearing a cape and a t-shirt that reads “I’m a Counselor… what’s your superpower?” She’ll interview in a different shirt, but she’s not fooling anyone. Her secret identity is as safe as Superman’s behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses.
Nearly two-thirds of the students at South Euless qualify for free or reduced lunch. Stacy knows most of them by name. In some cases, she’s known them since preschool because she worked with their older siblings. She does everything she can to connect with each family and tackle their individual needs. But there are more than 600 kids on campus every year.
Against those odds, even a superhero like Stacy needs some help.
Every Hero Needs An Origin Story
As challenging as the job can be, Stacy seems perfectly cut out for it. She has a warm, calming presence and near-infinite patience. Her office is lined with tools of the trade: books, encouraging notes, and a full roster of therapeutic puppets that facilitate difficult discussions about feelings that most children experience but struggle to process. If Batman was a counselor, this would be his office.
In fact, Stacy has a lot in common with the Caped Crusader. They both found their calling as kids. Perhaps more importantly, they each dedicated themselves to making their hometown a better place.
“I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, that was always a given,” Stacy said. “But my Senior Year of high school, I was in a program at Trinity High School where I was mentoring a student at Midway Park. That student really impacted me — just the needs that he had in his life — and I decided then [that I wanted to be a counselor].”
Before leaving for school, Stacy reached out to her former counselor at Bell Manor, Beth Kean. Their conversation set her on the path to her current job, and she views her role as an essential component in a child’s education. Of course, students need to cover all of the core subjects. But they also need to learn how to understand and deal with their emotions. They need support from someone they can trust.
“I’m one consistent person they have, every year from Pre K to 6th Grade,” Stacy said.
A superhero is only as good as their ability to reliably save the day. For Stacy, that means being present for every student. But it also means recruiting all the help she can get.
Building a Super Team
We spent a good portion of our summer exploring the problem of poverty in education and the dangerous ways that it weighs on educators, but it bears repeating: schools are tasked with much more than academic outcomes. Hungry children don’t test well. Kids dealing with their parents’ financial stress struggle to focus in class. To prepare the next generation for success, we have to educate the whole child. That kind of holistic approach requires a team.
“My limit here is that we’re academic. We have to focus on the academic needs that the students have,” Stacy said. “When there’s a family that comes in and there’s a financial need* or they need help with food, or they need help with Christmas, then we’re able to refer them to 6 Stones; to the New Hope Center. And I can tell them that we have Night of Hope at Christmas time… any time there’s needs like that, I can reach out to 6 Stones to help me help our families here at school.”
Stacy is diligent about making those connections, too. She estimates that she sends around 400 Night of Hope invitations home with at-risk students every year. More impressively, she checks that list herself. If she knows that a family qualifies for the program and hasn’t registered yet, she calls them to encourage them to sign up.
Christmas As a Launch Point
Having Night of Hope as a touch point helps Stacy to remind families that she cares about them and that they can always reach out with their needs. The program gives families a launch pad for ongoing support at a challenging time of year.
“Being a kid, Christmas is one of the big things, you know? Everybody talks about it and thinks about it. It’s just fun. And kids, a lot of time, have stress in their lives. They know that things are hard at home. They know that they don’t have the same things that some of their friends at school have,” Stacy said. “This is just something that gives them something fun to look forward to, some excitement. And kids, they do get stressed out about what’s going on at home with mom and dad. They know there are hard things and struggles with their family. This just allows them to be a kid for a little while and just enjoy the fun of the season.
“I just love that they get to come together and be with their community; hear the Christmas story and hear the hope of the season. [Parents recieve] things that they can take home and give to their kids on Christmas morning that just can add to the magic of Christmas time and this season.”
Bringing Families Together
Stacy is a big believer in Night of Hope. She’s seen it deliver relief for families who can’t afford to give their kids anything for Christmas; hope for moms and dads who would feel like they’ve failed if their kids woke up to an empty living room. She says that it spares kids from the social burden of having nothing to say about their holiday when they reunite with school friends in January. But, as much as those things matter, they aren’t her favorite part of the event.
“It’s called Night of Hope for a reason. It brings hope to our families. It just helps them know that they’re not alone. They have support in the community; people who care about them and support them and want to help them. It’s just great to have that resource and that organization to help us out here,” Stacy said.
“I think it’s just that connection. Connections are so important, and it’s hard to make them these days… that party, we all come together at school on that night and we have a great time together.”
Many of the families who qualify for free or reduced lunch are struggling less for want of jobs than for lack of adequate resources. Stacy says that a lot of parents work multiple jobs at odd hours to make ends meet. For them, it’s essential to find the time to pause their hectic schedule and spend quality time with the whole family in one place. That connective element works on both a personal and organizational level.
Beyond Christmas Morning
Since Night of Hope launched in 2010, the program has helped to deepen an ongoing partnership between South Euless and First United Methodist Church in Euless. FUMC serves as Night of Hope party hosts every December, and Stacy says that their involvement has grown from year to year because of the relationship formed through 6 Stones.
“It was really when 6 Stones started that partnership that they really started coming to us and saying ’How can we help? How can we support? What can we do?’” Stacy said. “It’s nice to know that we’re not in it by ourselves. It’s not just South Euless Elementary. We have a community that we can go to, and they can support our students and our families.”
Now, the church down the road helps to furnish snacks for students during standardized testing and even participates in a mentorship program at the school. On top of that, the preschool program at First Methodist serves some of the same kids that come through Night of Hope.
This event makes a difference for families by preventing them from having to choose between Christmas gifts and basic needs. It gives parents the emotional and psychological boost they need to tackle another year. But in the end, connections are the most important outcome. Partnerships like these bring this community closer together — closer to the way it was designed to be — by helping neighbors love one another again.
A community that loves each other well is more powerful than even the strongest superhero.
This is the first in a series of stories exploring the impact of Night of Hope at South Euless Elementary. Watch for more on First United Methodist Church and the families we serve together later this month. Learn more about Night of Hope and help make Christmas possible with your gift of $65 at 6stones.org/noh.
*6 Stones does not provide direct financial assistance, but we can refer New Hope Center guests to other organizations for help with specific bills. Families in need are welcome to visit once a month to receive food and clothing assistance when their budgets are tight.