PART III – Operation Back 2 School

JEFF BURNETT, Pastor, First Baptist Church – Hurst (1991-Present):
“Operation Back 2 School as we now know it began back in 2005, before 6 Stones even existed. A bible study class in our church wanted to do something on a larger scale for the community, and Mark Tolson came up with that idea. I mean, I’m sure other people had done it, but [there was nothing like that] in the area… I think we served three schools: Donna Park, Bellaire, and West Hurst Elementary — West Hurst being my Alma Mater, I grew up here — and I think served about 200 kids total.”

“6 Stones, obviously, came into existence ten years ago and initially — under Scott’s leadership — had a similar but much larger vision of touching all the students that could benefit from this, throughout the entire district. We just knew that it made a whole lot more sense for us to partner together. We could get much more done than any of us can, individually.”

JIM PACK, Missions Pastor, Restoration Church (1998-2012) / 6 Stones Board (2009-2013):
“I think we knew that we wanted to have an impact in the community, for sure. So it made sense that the school system had to be a part of that. Some way or another, Scott — I don’t know if he was contacted by Ellen Lobue or if we contacted her — but she was a part of the school system. She was the one that was kind of responsible for people that were struggling economically… a lot of this began with her. 

Ellen Lobue gives an interview ahead of Operation Back 2 School in 2016.

“We started meeting and helping her by giving her additional supplies, opening up the 6 Stones campus to her to come with her people and get supplies and things that they needed here. Somewhere in those meetings, it came up about the backpacks. There were programs in Fort Worth and Tarrant County that were doing that, but they were not accessible to so many people in this area. We began to build on that.”

JOHN MEADOR, Pastor, Cross City Church Pastor (2006-Present):
“It stems out of Scott asking the question, repeatedly: ’how can we bless you? How can we help you accomplish what you think is important with the people you work with?’ That’s a whole lot different than going into an organization and saying ‘here’s what we think we can do for you.’ It’s a world of difference, and I think that asking the question with an open-ended question mark is a better way to approach it… the leaders of that organization know so much more than we know about it. We have to go in with question marks instead of exclamation marks.”

BURNETT: “When the question is posed: ‘What can we do? How can we help?’ with no strings attached? Nobody does that. There’s always an agenda. There’s always this give-and-take… people initially didn’t believe it was real. But year after year, event after event: life change, backpacks provided, Christmas, renovation of homes — I mean, everything that 6 Stones does — it’s love expressed with no strings attached. And people, once they get over the disbelief, respond to genuine service. That’s what 6 Stones does so well.”

6 Stones Founder and former Executive Director Scott Sheppard gives an interview during the first ever Back 2 School event.

“Educators are the largest professional group we have in our church. So there was this heartbeat of people that knew what it was like — not theoretically, they knew what it was like — on these campuses, with these kids. What these kids and their families were facing. Then you put that with people who had real compassion and organizational skills like a Mark Tolson, like a Kimberly Wirt. And they were able to formulate, working closely with the school district — it’s the best school district in the state of Texas — and they were able to partner together and work together in such a way that, there were some things that we learned along the way, but it flowed pretty smoothly for us… and then it took on a whole ‘nother dimension when 6 Stones came in and we started becoming a part of their larger vision.”

ELLEN LOBUE, Social WorkerHEB ISD Family Support Services (2004-Present):
“I was talking to Scott Shepherd about how hard it was for these kiddos to start school and not have the supplies and feel as prepared as the kid sitting in the desk next to them. That’s not a way for a student to start school; already feeling like they’re behind because they don’t have the pencils or the map colors or the construction paper or whatever it is that was on that school supply sheet that they were not able to obtain due to financial difficulties.”

“We talked about how 6 Stones could help support these kids, and get them starting the school year feeling good about what they have; like there’s no difference between them and the kiddos sitting next to them. It’s grown a little every year.”

PACK: “In those early days, we turned it into a Barnum & Bailey Circus. The first backpack drive we had, I think we had ten inflatable games. We had the police department, the fire department, the emergency air evac people; you could hardly get in before you had anybody here! That particular day in July turned out to be about 110 degrees. We had to close down 90% of the games because the rubber was too hot for the kids to get on it! So we learned. We learned that you didn’t have to have all of that. People really would come just because they were in need.”

The first Operation Back 2 School in 2009 was more Carnival than Social Service Fair.

LOBUE: “They’re just so excited when they leave. A few years ago, outside, there were jumpy houses. I walked outside with some of the kids, and they were getting into the jumpy houses and I said ‘you can’t go in there with your backpack on.’ And the little boy said, ‘well, I’m not taking off this backpack.’ And he didn’t jump in the jumpy house because he was not about to take off his brand new backpack. It was just a really moving moment for me to see how important having these supplies — and a new backpack — is to these kids.”

 “We have to recognize these needs, and we have to — as a community, as a school, as a district, as a teacher — we have to respond to these needs and make sure they’re met. Because most of these kids aren’t going to say ‘I’m hungry, I didn’t eat.’ Because they’re embarrassed.”

“I probably had some reservations, but honestly, at the time 6 Stones was starting, the need was so great in this community… it sometimes felt like the needs were so much greater than the resources, so to see this resource building was comforting. It was reassuring. It was promising. It was a promise that there will be services out there that there might be gaps for right now.”

DR GENE BUINGER, Superintendent, Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD (1999-2013):
“The big issue was that, as I said from the very outset, the church cannot use this to openly proselytize. We have children from so many different religious backgrounds. I’ve told this story before, but it was so very important: we were doing the Back 2 School backpack event, the very first one that 6 Stones held, and hundreds of families were there. It was a tremendous success, like each one of them has been since. But I got out of my car and I started to walk into the 6 Stones facility, and a Muslim mother wearing a hijab came out with her children, holding on to their arms, and they each had their backpack. When I saw that, that showed me that this was going to work. We would be able to do this, and we wouldn’t be facing criticism.”

The first Operation Back 2 School was busier and more diverse than anyone expected.

BURNETT: “[6 Stones] is the common thread that runs throughout HEB; of everybody getting on board, across denominational lines, across city borders. Companies and corporations that may be — in the business world — in competition with each other — and yet they work alongside each other for the greater good and for the sake of kids.”

“When you have a school district like this, who always puts kids first, and then you have this organization — this coalition — of people that have a deep passion in their faith and want to serve people, those working together? You lay everything else aside.”

BUINGER: “It’s really all about the community. What kind of community are we going to have? Is it going to be a community where families are secure? Where children are learning? All of these things are critical. And it’s also important, I think, that our congregations have learned from this how diverse the community is. For instance, in Euless, by the last census, 25% of the citizens in Euless was foreign-born. That’s a tremendous number. But, as I’ve also said, we live very segregated lives. Most of our churches and temples reflect a very narrow segment of the population. They do not reflect the diversity that exists in our public schools. There are over 70 languages that are spoken in the homes of the children that go to school here… almost all of your major faiths are represented by the families in the school district. I didn’t view the languages or religions as a problem. The problem is poverty. That has such a long-lasting impact on children and families. Anything that can address those root-cause issues is one that the school district and other resources in the community ought to embrace.”

LOBUE: “I think people want to do the right thing. I think people want to support their communities. But there’s not always an agency like 6 Stones, whose doors are open, whose website is right here, saying ‘Please come, volunteer, please come help. This is what we need. This is what I want you to do…’ That something different about 6 Stones. It’s always inviting the people in the community to help the other people in the community. But I believe, in general, that people do want to help other people.”

BURNETT: “What I think we have is individuals — all walks of life — with similar convictions and commitments that become colleagues. And their collaboration results in a community transformation. It’s all people working together, partnering together… as an expression of faith, people coming together and partnering with one another have been able to be effective in touching and transforming so many lives in this community.”

“Jesus had a lot to say about kids. He said ‘you don’t hinder them, you let them come to me.’ And he embraced them. 6 Stones is the arms and the feet of Jesus, embracing the lives of children. We’re a better community because of it.”

NEXT: An Oral History of Night of Hope

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