Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dinner with a Gentleman #KidsDeserveIt

I almost have no words to express my emotions.

Last night we held our very first "Dinner with a Gentleman" at Webb Elementary in Navasota, Texas.

Now....let me back track a little.

Back in October or November we were beginning our Watch DOGS Program.  It's a program that seeks to get men involved in volunteering, even one day, at their child's school.  We partnered with another elementary in our community and housed a kick-off event at their school.

After lots of advertising and talking about it, and offering FREE Pizza, our campus had only two, yes two, father figures show up.

It was crushing.

We all know the value of getting men involved in a child's education, and life in general.  And it has been a mission that's been heavy on my heart for a while.  Especially coming from a home, raised by a single-mother, and thinking about the men who impacted me and are the reason I am who I am today.

So I sat down with my Assistant Principal, Aaron Marvel, and brainstormed.  I knew we could do better then just a kick-off event.  We thought about another popular option, which is "Donuts with Dad".  But after looking at our mornings here at Webb and our facilities, it just wouldn't work during a school day.

I also gotta give a shout-out to Brad Gustafson, Ben Gilpin, and Adam Welcome who listened to my crazy ideas through Voxer and helped me figure this all out too.

So, then I had an idea.  Why not turn this around, and find a way to celebrate the men in these kids lives.  Many of my students don't have their fathers in their lives.  They have uncles, brothers, step-dads, grandfathers, etc.

So the idea of a Dinner celebrating men was born.  We toyed around with different names for the event.  Dinner with Dad, Dinner with Dudes, and more.  We finally settled on "Dinner with a Gentleman".

I found a little money in a Title Fund account that has to be used for Parent Engagement and Involvement, and called a caterer.  I priced out some BBQ (everyone loves BBQ in Texas).

After the disappointing showing at the Watch DOGS kick-off event, we were being hopeful in guessing about 150 would show up for a free dinner.

So I created flyers, went around and talked to each class, and asked students to consider coming and to turn in an RSVP form so we would know ho much food and seating to account for.  I made sure the kids know this was a "Dinner with a Gentleman" so moms weren't allowed! haha

Well....let's just say we weren't prepared for what came next.

Over the next few weeks, we received over 200, then 300, then 400 RSVPs.....we didn't have money or seating for that!  I called in help, we brainstormed.  We stressed.

We found a new caterer, changed the meal idea (we had to stay in budget)!  We contacted some local companies to help us with the funding just in case.  We worked with the City, the district, and the VFW to get tables and chairs for our event.

Then 3 days before we stopped taking reservations.  At this point we had 647, yes 647, RSVPs.  We were floored.  We had never experienced anything like this before.

We went into frantic planning mode.  I reached out to the staff at Webb and asked for help!  And man they helped.

Centerpieces were made, tables were delivered, set up, and organized the day of the event, phone calls were made, and so much more.

Last night was our event.  It took everything in me not to break down into tears at the sight of a room full of men with their children.  We had over 580 actually show up for the event.

When the kids and their Gentleman came in, they got to pick out a book from a table full of choices (we wanted to have them leave with something they could use to continue building relationships).

They then found their seat, and we had our first of 3 short guest speakers.  We wanted to make sure we reflected our community and our fathers. So we had speakers of different ethnicity, of different upbringings, of different careers.

We then served our meal, had a student panel who got to share what having a gentleman involved in their lives mean to them, and we closed with a BEAUTIFUL song by our music teacher Mr. Kevin Haliburton.

Throughout the evening we had a slideshow of kids and music playing as well.

All in all, it went off without a hitch.  I couldn't believe it.

I am so thankful by the team I am surrounded by who stepped up and made this all a success.  They are the rockstars.

But even more so, I am proud of the Gentlemen who showed up with their kids last night.  I can only hope that memories were made and relationships were deepened by spending just a little more time together.

I am emotionally (and physically) drained this morning and still trying to really take everything in.

Children need men involved in their lives.  Just like they need women involved.  And for one night we got to celebrate some of those men who are choosing to be a part of a child's life.  I can't wait to hear the conversations today from the kids who there.

This is an event, that I know, I will never forget.