Feb 28, 2012

Heroes Reception Hits New Heights

Me with one of my heroes, former student and soon to U.S. Marine Corps officer, Keisha Paez.  As has been my pattern lately, I have virtually no pictures of the evening. I was so busy running around "managing" the event that I didn't think to take photos.  From now on, I'm assigning someone to do the picture taking at events like this.  Thanks to Babs for taking this photo.

My first goal for this year's heroes reception was to take it up a notch from the first one.  I want each year to be better than the last until we achieve a level of quality that is worthy of the men and women we seek to honor.

We accomplished that.  The kids beat themselves up over all the things that went wrong, and I too felt it could have gone more smoothly, but on balance a lot of things came together really well. 

This event was bathed in prayer.  In the week prior as the stress of this huge event took hold, we found we had no choice but to put it all in God's hands.  Each day we spent a season of prayer together as a class, lifting up to God our needs for the reception.  And God came through in a big way.

The gym looked spectacular. The kids came up with the color scheme and decoration ideas.  This year our colors were black, white, and silver with red accents.  A big thanks to Mrs. Arthurs, herself an honoree, who helped me kick it up a notch.  She came in to look at we'd done so far on Friday and then went shopping with me to find a few more things add to polish the look.  Saturday night, when she could have simply kicked back and basked in the accolades, she was working along side the students on the last minute decorations right up to the start of the reception.

  Of course in terms of decor, the highlight were the 100 posters.  Each glossy 11 by 17 poster featured a photo of a hero and beneath the students' written tribute to their hero. Throughout the reception the heroes and their guests could browse through the venue looking at the pictures and reading the tributes, and at the end of the evening they were able to take their poster home as a keepsake.  As at the past reception, seeing all the heroes in the flesh, was a little like meeting a celebrity.  I'd read the tributes and seen their pictures, but there was something quite thrilling in meeting these heroes in real life!
Keisha and our Feller at the dinner table at the 2012 Heroes Reception.  You can see the posters lining the wall behind them.

The food was delicious.  The kids chose the menu, but Mrs. Madelyn Boddie, our regular substitute teacher and a serious chef, was responsible for taking the kids' ideas and transforming them into delectable reality.  Mrs. Boddie has fed hundreds before, so it was no big thing to her, but it meant a lot to us, especially because she provided her considerable services gratis.  Mrs. Boddie got a  huge assist from the King's Daughters, an association of Christian ladies who volunteered their time and talents to help with the food prep and service that night.  Also, my lovely wife took on the dessert and made all the peach cobbler served that evening--twelve trays worth, enough to feed two hundread people!

The invitations looked sharp, and the invitations committee also did a lot of work on creating a seating chart for the evening, something we lacked at the last reception.

The program was well planned. I was so excited to have some live music to honor our heroe this year.  The 8th grade class president played an instrumental number on the piano, and three young ladies sang a beautiful acappella rendition of Mariah Carey's "Hero."  This year, due to the number of students in the class, the students opted to categorize the heroes and honor them by category, rather than having all 24 students get up and share their tributes.   Selected students read a tribute they'd prepared to the heroes of that category and then all the names of the heroes were read, and those that were present were asked to stand so that students could honor them. It was a bit harried because the students were trying to serve food at the same time so they felt the need to rush through it.  As a result the ideal of each student presenting their hero with a flower and their little gift bag of candy didn't always happen.  Often times it was just a random student rushing up to anyone they found standing and thrusting the gifts into their hands.

All of this cost money--lots of it.  With the much bigger turn out this year, we spent about $1500 more than double the amount we spent in 2010.  However, we also raised a lot more  money this year thanks to  our fundraising committee--a two woman show.  Two girls in my class took it upon themselves to shore up our meager stockpile of funds by planning some special activities at the school the week of the reception.  The dynamic duo with the help of a couple of classmates raked in just over $200 for their efforts and managed to collect another $125 in donations the night of the reception.  We still fell far short of what we needed to fund the event, and we borrowed heavily from the 8th grade class, so the fundraising will continue as we look for ways to pay that money back in the next few months.

There were a few things that didn't go as planned:  Our music once again failed to materialize, at first because we couldn't locate a device to play it on, and later because the soundtrack had been so carefully curated to match each moment of the evening (most of which had already passed) that there was little flexiblity for some nice dinner music to play between program segments.  I'd also like to flesh out our gift bags a little more--God bless, the same two girls who were our fundraisers went out and spent their own money for the candy in the bags.  I know they would have liked to have given more.  Perhaps next year we can partner with local businesses that would be willing to donate items for the gift bags.

These are minor quibbles though.  The surest evidence in our success was not in our estimation of how the evening went, but in the response of those we'd invited.   The response was very postiive.  Our guests truly appreciated our efforts.  These ordinary people--people who'd never think to call themselves heroes--were deeply touched.  The following week I was privy to a flurry of e-mails between grateful parents, relatives, and other heroes as they talked about how special the evening was.  Eventually they hat hatched a plan to throw the kids a pizza party for the kids to tell the kids thank you for their thought, care, and hard work.

I'm so proud of my students, and I can't wait to see what's in store as we take our heroes to even greater heights next year.

The family with Keisha at the end of the reception.

Feb 24, 2012

A Hero in Our Home: Keisha's Visit

Babs and Keisha outside COSI. Sunday, February 5, 2012

We were so thrilled and I was so honored to welcome Keisha Paez into our home about a month ago.  Keisha flew out to attend the 2nd Annual Heroes Reception as my honored guest.  I was amazed and moved that Keisha would spend the time and money to come all the way out here from Oregon just to attend my students' event.

Of course she did more than just go to the reception.  I feel like I barely saw her for the first part of the weekend, from her arrival Friday up until the Saturday night reception, as I was so consumed with getting ready for the gala event.

But Sunday we had a nice time together.  We went downtown to our favorite Thai place in Columbus, Basil and then stopped over at Jeni's for some splendid ice cream.  Then we finished out the afternoon with a nice visit to COSI, where we spent a good bit of time in the fascinating new exhibit on race.  Sunday night we watched the Super Bowl at home.

Keisha talking to my students.  Monday, February 6, 2012

On Monday, Keisha came by the school in the afternoon and made a brief presentation to my students about her experiences with the Marine Corps.  As soon as school was over I ran her over to the airport and just like that her all-too-short visit came to an end.  As I hugged her goodbye and watched her walk purposefully into the airport, I felt a wistful pang.  All of us Babs,Elijah, and me really had thoruoghly enjoyed having her with us for the weekend, and it felt too soon to be saying goodbye.

We'll see her again this summer when we fly to join her and the whole Paez tribe for her commissioning as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.