Days after the event, most guests at the Texans Can Academies Fort Worth Cares for Kids Luncheon probably couldn't tell you what they ate for lunch or what, exactly, the adults said up on stage. But they most definitely could tell you how they felt when the school's students bravely took to the microphone to tell their stories.
Dry eyes were hard to come by in the ballroom of River Crest Country Club when the teenagers recounted childhoods plagued by abuse and homelessness, and their longing to create brighter futures for themselves through education. All ended their presentations by declaring their graduation dates and future plans, and they received rousing applause and standing ovations.
The students were the reason that attendees — including Louella Martin, Jan Peterson, Joan Davis, Teri Gill, Paula White, Katie Robert, Maralyn Zachry, Kim Carey, Carol Spurlock, Maryanne Mitchell, Kathy Amparan, Cheryl Conatser, Carol Severson, and Julia Bloxom — gathered at the mid-September event.
But they also assembled to honor three local women who have made a difference in thousands of lives in Fort Worth: Debby Brown, Mary Alice Brumley, and Cheryl Van Zandt. They received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteerism for their support of both Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County and Texans Can Academies. The honorary co-chairs for the event were Karen and Larry Anfin and the event co-chairs were Diane Stow Ayres and Charlie Powell.
Emcee Deborah Ferguson of NBC 5 Today welcomed guests, and luncheon honorary co-chair Larry Anfin expressed his gratitude to the honorees. After an invocation by Pastor Ted Kitchens of Christ Chapel Bible Church, guests enjoyed a meal of chicken crepes with champagne sauce, followed by flourless chocolate cake and strawberries Romanoff for dessert.
During the meal, each table got a chance to visit with students or administrators and learn more about the schools' campuses. Texans Can Academies Fort Worth provides an educational route for youth and non-traditional students in need, who would otherwise not have the means to receive a proper high school education. Many of the students who attend the schools experience barriers to their education, such as poverty, little access to basic resources, early parenthood, and more.
Proceeds from the annual Fort Worth luncheon benefit the students of the two Fort Worth campuses, located on 1316 East Lancaster Ave. and 6620 Westcreek Dr.
The three honorees shared their personal stories of working with the Fort Worth students at Texans Can and said their lives have been touched in return. "God is smiling down on these counselors, mentors, and teachers as they provide love, encouragement, and hope to these kids," said honoree Brown.
Added Van Zandt, "We've been amazed at the eagerness of each student to learn — this sense of accomplishment that they have that they've been able to learn skills that they didn't realize they were able to accomplish. They've been given these wonderful skills to go out and to change their lives individually."
After the last bites of dessert had been eaten, the student-presenters took to the stage and shared their touching stories. The most poignant moment of the day came when one of the teenagers talked of her best friend, a promising young Texans Can Academies Fort Worth student, who — along with her young child — tragically had passed away during recent flash flooding in Fort Worth. The grief felt by her classmates was palpable and heartbreaking.
Texans Can president and CEO Richard Marquez summed up the schools' mission well in the event program: "Every young person has a story and many need a second chance to get on track," he wrote. "These are the students we want ... We believe in everyone. Our goal is for every student to graduate and then lead a productive and fulfilling life based on the reading and thinking skills they learned at Texans Can."