I met Trevor and Jacob this spring. They were the first to arrive at a shoe giveaway sponsored by Buckner Children and Family Services. The event took place at an elementary school nestled in the community of Bachman Lake. It was just 7:30 am on a Saturday, but Trevor and Jacob were wide awake and ready to go.

Trevor was about ten years old and Jacob six. Trevor approached me first; his big brown eyes flashed with a vitality that warmed my heart. Jacob followed his brother close behind. He struggled to make eye contact; his English skills were limited. They arrived alone but clearly felt safe and confident in the familiar school they attended each day. Shyly they accepted our offers of doughnuts and apples while waiting for more friends to arrive.

My husband and I were volunteers, there to play games with the children and fit them for new shoes. Our station was tug of war. Guess who was our first contestant? Trevor and a few friends surrounded us ready to try their hand at the game. With a little instruction, Trevor wrapped the rope around his arm and took the anchor spot. Planting his sturdy body on a spot on the floor, he pulled, grinning from ear to ear, even when he was losing ground. Jacob stood to the side; his eyes wide.

During a break Trevor showed me his chafed hands. Blisters were sure to follow. He just laughed and picked up the rope again. Sometimes it was Trevor against three others, sometimes it was five or six students on both sides. Trevor was always at the end pulling the hardest.

As the kids played tug of war, three-legged races and corn hole, the cafeteria filled with moms, dads and children. The parents sat at child-size tables sharing coffee and a doughnut. Laughter and playful screams echoed. Sunshine shone through windows. The cafeteria floor gleamed with polish.

When the games were finished, the principal greeted the audience alternating English and Spanish. She welcomed everyone and explained the morning’s activities. After that, we went to the auditorium. About 25 volunteers were there to match children with much needed new shoes and socks.

Second or third in line was Trevor and Jacob. I sat Jacob in the small wooden chair and asked him what shoe size he wore. He looked at his brother, and Trevor told me what his brother needed. After a couple of tries we found Jacob shoes, and they left. I wish I had said good-bye.

The community of Bachman Lake is growing rapidly. The neighborhood is 93% Hispanic. Its four elementary schools serve nearly 4,000 students altogether. Ninety-three percent of the school children are economically disadvantaged.

Children like Trevor and Jacob are the future of our city. With support, compassion and focus, the families of Bachman Lake and other communities throughout Dallas can have the opportunity to find the prosperity they desire for their families.

Without intervention, the people of this community might not reach their potential. That’s why the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Buckner Children and Family Services, the Seimer Institute, and the Zero to Five Funders Collaborators are helping kids like Trevor, Jacob, and their families obtain the information, tools and emotional support they need to achieve the success they deserve.

Until recently, I rarely volunteered. I didn’t think I had the time, and I wasn’t sure what I had to offer. I was wrong. Volunteering has awakened my thinking – I’m more compassionate, I’m more creative, and I clearly see the connection between the success of our children and the future of this city. After 10 years of living in Dallas, I own my role in making North Texas a better place for all. Research shows and common sense tell us – supporting schools and families to meet the needs of children from pre-k to high school especially in reading and mathematics matters a lot.

It’s the difference between failing to graduate high school to achieving college success; underemployment to good paying careers; illiteracy to independence; fear to confidence; apathy to purpose.

To influence and lead us to better outcomes for the community, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Celanese will announce the Grow South, Grow Strong initiative this Friday during the 2016-2017 Campaign kickoff rally. This initiative will provide volunteer skills and resources to communities in Southern Dallas. In the coming months, Celanese and the United Way will work alongside other companies in North Texas to build and sustain education-focused volunteer efforts that help students and corporate volunteers reach their full potential.

In future blogs, we’ll talk about our focus, events and work supporting this initiative. Join us and you will be amazed by what we can do, together.