Cathedral of Hope volunteers give back to Maple Lawn Elementary
Mario’s shoes were worn out.
But it wasn’t until after Bruce Ackerman bought the Maple Lawn Elementary School student a new pair that he noticed Mario’s old shoes barely even had soles in them.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” Ackerman said.
Ackerman has volunteered at Maple Lawn for the past 15 years through Cathedral of Hope’s partnership with the predominantly Hispanic school that sits across Inwood Road from the church. Maple Lawn is one of the poorest schools in the Dallas Independent School District.
For Ackerman, meeting the basic needs of the students was just another problem to resolve, not an insurmountable barrier.
Ackerman met with principal Carmen Derrick and counselor Stacy Owens, bringing with him Mario’s old shoes and an idea: Teachers could take a close look at their students’ needs, and then Ackerman and other volunteers would find a way to meet those needs.
The idea made perfect sense to Owens, who proposed that teachers make student wish lists, something like the Angel Tree projects that are popular around Christmas each year. Teachers would look out for students wearing torn shirts or tattered shoes then give the students’ names and sizes to Owens.
The first list Owens gave Ackerman included 40 students.
Ackerman quickly realized he could not — nor should he — do all that shopping alone.
“So I took the lists to friends and other members of Cathedral of Hope. But one member said he couldn’t afford to take the list with so many items. So he found four others and signed them up. Each person who took a list bought every item on it,” Ackerman said.
Because many of the volunteers had not purchased children’s clothes for years — if ever — shopping for the students was in some cases an eye-opening experience.
“In the stores [volunteers] asked other shoppers who had kids, [and one asked], ‘We’re buying these clothes and shoes for kids at Maple Lawn [who are] 6 to 12 years old. This boy is 10 years old and needs a size nine shoe?’” Ackerman said. “After a good laugh, the experienced shopper explained there is a child’s nine and an adult’s nine and they are quite different.”
When everyone had turned in the purchases, Ackerman got to work. On March 10, Ackerman and his husband Stan Feaster delivered the gifts to the school.
“The administrators were thrilled,” Ackerman said, praising both Derrick and Owens for their leadership in making the project happen.
“Derrick is a great principal,” he added.
Ackerman is one of Maple Lawn’s go-to volunteers because he wants to make sure no student falls through the cracks. One of his students received a full scholarship to the prestigious all-boys private school St. Mark’s of Texas.
“All he has to pay is the bus fee there,” Ackerman said.
Other efforts are more personal.
Even as he is primarily involved with tutoring, Ackerman knows other Cathedral of Hope ministries can ensure happy, healthy students.
Ackerman also recently has begun eating lunch with three male students without fathers.
Two of the boys’ fathers were deported. Another one’s dad died.
Eating lunch with them is no substitute for their missing fathers, but Ackerman appreciates the opportunity. “They need father figures,” he said.
Bob Shea, interim director of advancement at the church, praised Ackerman and other church members for their generosity.
“Bruce’s work is just the latest reiteration of our work with Maple Lawn,” Shea said. “We’ve built an educational garden, fixed the air conditioning system at the school and helped buy mini-refrigerators. We’ve had a long and good relationship with the school. We have a generous community. Give them a charge and they run with it.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2016.