One person can make a difference

MOLLIE F. BELT | 8/24/2015, 7:31 a.m.
Taylor Toynes, a first year teacher at W.W. Bushman Elementary School in Oak Cliff, was alarmed that his students did ...
Mollie Finch Belt, publisher of The Dallas Examiner

The Dallas Examiner

Taylor Toynes, a first year teacher at W.W. Bushman Elementary School in Oak Cliff, was alarmed that his students did not have school supplies last year. They didn’t have backpacks or if they did they were torn and stunk. They didn’t have paper, pencils, etc. that students need to perform in school.

Toynes decided to do something about it. On June 2 he sent me an email about the back to school festival he was organizing called “For Oak Cliff.” He wanted the festival to be in the neighborhood where the children lived who needed the school supplies. He discussed with me the 2016 ZIP code area where they lived, the demographics, the poverty and the lack of role models.

His vision for the event was to better prepare the students for a successful school year, but also to celebrate education and build excitement for the new school year, as well as let students know their community cares about them, help build a sense of community and hope, and increase civic engagement.

He spent his summer reaching out to nonprofit organizations and churches asking them to be sponsors for the festival. Many groups have their own school drives and the mayor has a large back to school drive at the Fair Park every year. I asked Toynes why this neighborhood needed a separate school supply drive.

“Why can’t they go to the Fair Park?”

Toynes grew up in the area, so he understands the essential needs and the complexity of the community’s issues. He told me that neither Oak Cliff parents nor their children had transportation to Fair Park.

Julianna Bradley, a community organizer, helped Toynes organize the event after he shared with her his vision.

Some of the churches he met with suggested having the festival on their grounds, but Toynes insisted on having the festival at Glendale Park – right in their neighborhood.

After much work on his part he was able to get sponsors who contributed a lot. The United Way supplied all of the logistical support and brought 300 backpacks. They also partnered with Texas Instruments who provided tents and food.

Aisha Lusk and Amanda Whitelaw were both representatives of United Way that gave extra to ensure that the festival was a success.

Williams Chicken brought approximately 700 boxes of free chicken. Commit Partners gave $3,000 toward purchasing school supplies. Additionally, the city of Dallas provided school supplies. City Council members Casey Thomas and Carolyn Arnold attended the festival and gave their support.

Approximately 3,000 people attended the festival on Saturday at Glendale Park.

The festival helped children realize that the community cared about them and cared that they had what they needed to start school. Many of the children will start school eagerly knowing that they are better prepared this year.

One student told Toynes it was the best “weekend of his life.” This student had spent the weekend with Toynes going to television stations, etc., to promote the festival.

Twenty kids went to WFAA Chanel 8 studio for the morning show to inform the community of the festival. Toynes told me that what he is proudest of is that the community came together and made it happen.

Toynes is just one person. But he is one person who wanted to make a big difference. He knew that the project was bigger than he could handle alone; he worked diligently to bring on supporters who could help with his vision.

There are many issues surrounding our community, and one person or one event cannot solve the on-going problems related to poverty, unemployment, crime, broken family, etc. But, if each one of us decided to do what we could to make a difference in areas of need – and work together when the situation calls for it – we could each create a stepping stone to take those in need closer toward success.

Join the conversation. Send your letters to mbelt@dallasexaminer.com.