There are few organizations that truly live their mission in totality. However, I can say with confidence that Hope Stone does. Their vision of "Art for ALL" drives every decision that they make. And as they close their doors at the end of this month after 10 years of serving the community, I wish for them to know the profound impact that they have had on not just my family, but so many communities throughout Texas and Louisiana. To do this, I will start with a little bit of our story.
On March 9, 2007, we were blessed to become the parents of a beautiful 5 year old little girl with special needs from Sierra Leone. Our medical social worker referred us to Hope Stone when we contacted her to inquire about extracurricular activities that might be beneficial for her. And that marked the beginning of our family's seven amazing years with Hope Stone.
Through movement and music, Hope Stone gave my daughter a means of communication when her inability to speak English made verbal communication with others nearly impossible.
Through theater and improv, Hope Stone gave my daughter a healthy outlet for her emotions when she was teased for being a dark skinned girl in a world that prefers the opposite, or when she faced social stigma as a result of her diagnosis, or when she had to cope with various difficulties.
Through drumming, Hope Stone gave my daughter a way to celebrate her heritage and a way to connect positively with others.
Through dance, Hope Stone gave my daughter a way to remain active even when juvenile arthritis and asthma robbed her of the ability to physically participate in other activities she'd previously enjoyed.
Through service projects and community service, Hope Stone gave my daughter a way to "give back" to others and to develop leadership skills.
Through outreach activities such as Hope Stone's Commemorative World AIDS Day Labyrinth, breast cancer awareness, satellite campuses providing services to the homeless, to special needs populations, to impoverished youth and adults throughout Houston, Katy, the Rio Grande Valley, to Katrina evacuees in New Orleans, and much, much more, Hope Stone gave my daughter a sense of the diverse ways one can advocate--that in its various forms, art, for example, can be a force for social change.
And aside from my daughter, as my family has grown, we have all benefitted from being a part of Hope Stone. We have been blessed to participate in activities such a multigenerational music classes that allowed my entire family, from mom, grandma, and toddlers, to participate to performances as a country club to a concert and "meet and greet" with internationally acclaimed musician Josh Groban...all because of Hope Stone.
In addition to my daughter, Hope Stone has welcomed my other sons and daughter. And as a large, autistic, HIV affected, neurodiverse family, we can honestly say that Hope Stone has always been accommodating and accepting of us. If someone needed a few stim breaks to make it through the class, Hope Stone basically said, "stim on." If an individual had difficulty with instructions due to an intellectual disability or auditory processing issues, they offered support and extra time to go over the material.
Hope Stone's founder and executive director, Jane Weiner, and her amazing staff literally know every child and adult in all of the programs by name. They have cultivated a true community that mirrors the world in terms of its ethnic, racial, age, religious, socioeconomic, ability, gender, sexual orientation, and lifestyle diversity. Everyone is welcome when they walk through the doors of Hope Center. It is a family. And the depth and quality of the programming and instruction that is given is outstanding. It's more than just the art itself that one is taught, but the philosophy and significance of it as well.
On a shoestring budget, Hope Stone has made the impossible happen for over a decade. They have done so much more than what I've shared. They have provided mentoring and artistic work space for emerging artists, they have maintained a professional and pre-professional dance company, they have nurtured artists and supported local, statewide, and national programs. They are truly a unique entity. They will be profoundly missed.
I urge you to visit their website and learn more about this phenomenal organization whose sunset is upon us. Do you want to know what inclusion and acceptance looks like? You can take some notes from Hope Stone. Art for All now and always!