While most local residents were preparing for New Year’s celebrations, a group of Hillsboro High School students and adults packing around 1,500 presents were heading to Houston, Texas this weekend to deliver Christmas presents to students who were devastated by August’s Hurricane Harvey.
Mindy Lawson, the Hillsboro teacher who conceived of the project, said earlier this week that five Hillsboro students and three adults planned to leave Thursday evening for an approximately 1,100-mile trip that would see them meet with Evan E. Worthing High School administrators and students Saturday morning.
“We’ve been speaking with the Worthing superintendent and principal and they’re trying to get as many kids to the school as they can by telling them it’s their second Christmas,” Lawson said this week. “The main problem is these kids don’t have cars, and it’s hard to get kids to school on Christmas break.”
Lawson said the three adults planned to take turns driving a 15-passenger van loaded with the gifts and hoped to arrive in Houston by Friday night. They planned to stay in Houston overnight Friday and Saturday and take in some sights before heading back to Hillsboro on Sunday.
“It’s a huge road trip, but everyone is excited,” Lawson said.
As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, the idea for the trip dawned on Lawson one day in September. She said she thought it would nice to help some students in the Houston area who had been impacted by the hurricane.
As things developed, Lawson was put in touch with Worthing High School Interim Principal Laquetta Kennedy, and an operation dubbed the “Houston to Hillsboro Holiday Gift Drive” was born.
“It just popped into my head because people don’t typically think of teenagers when they think of Christmas toy drives and things like that,” said Lawson in an earlier interview. Lawson, the parent of a 15-year-old who also teaches language, literature, creative writing and English at Hillsboro High School, added, “Sometimes teenagers are overlooked at Christmas, but they’re still kids underneath it all.”
Hillsboro High School International Thespian Troupe 5928 took the lead on the project and the National Honor Society, student government, band color guard, marching band and other student representatives joined in. They asked the community to help by dropping off presents and cash donations at the school.
Before it was all over, around 1,100 gifts and more than $1,000 in cash were collected. The money was used to buy more presents that the Worthing students had said they would like to receive.
“People were volunteering to offer everything from services such as wrapping presents to delivery vehicles from self-owned trucking companies. It was all very overwhelming,” Lawson said this week. “I thought maybe it was going to be too much to handle, but I couldn’t possibly crush the spirit of these kids.”
According to Lawson, Worthing High School is located in one of the poorest sectors of Houston, and has an enrollment of about 815 students, with 99 percent being minorities and 95 percent from economically disadvantaged families.
“The day I called, in mid-September, it was their first day back in school. They had been out that long because they didn’t have a building,” Lawson said. “Most of the kids are disadvantaged to begin with, and most of them had lost their homes through the flood.”
The reason for “Hillsboro to Houston,” Lawson said, is “because every teenager deserves a Christmas present on Christmas, and these children’s lives were torn apart by the devastation of the Hurricane Harvey flood. Let’s unburden their parents by helping bring cheer this holiday season. Our children want to make a difference, so let’s help them.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.