Best friends since sixth grade, Thanh Phan and Derria Money were determined to find a way to continue to have fun together when they began attending separate schools. Now seniors about to begin new chapters, they have kept their friendship strong.
One way they found time together in their busy schedules was by volunteering at the Buckner Family Hope Center™ at the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy at Mercy Street Complex presented by Toyota.
“I remember emailing her [Derria] because we had just separated into two different schools far apart from each other,” Thanh said. “I sent her information about the Family Hope Center and said, ‘Do you want to hang out? This is something for us to do, and we can also be doing something we’d like to do.’”
Both attend prestigious schools, one at a collegiate academy and the other at a school for gifted and talented. They were encouraged to find ways to serve in their community. For both, the Family Hope Center felt like a perfect place to serve – and have fun with their best friend.
“Being around Ms. Keri [Family Hope Center director and manager] and the kids in general, the energy and all the personalities, I love it,” Derria shared. “So, we never stopped coming. Once you find something you love to do, I think that makes all the difference in the world.”
Derria and Thanh have volunteered at countless events such as glow-in-the-dark Easter egg hunts, trunk or treat and Christmas events, but they have a true passion for the Tween Nights they participate in every other week.
The two friends teach the tween participants important lessons like what a good friendship looks like, boundaries and other valuable life skills.
Keri Pettis, director and manager of the Family Hope Center, is grateful for the duo’s dedication and consistency. When volunteering opportunities became slim due to the pandemic, they both jumped in to become virtual tutors.
“Sometimes it can be hard to come and volunteer if you’ve got personal things going on, and when I haven’t had the best day, I remind myself, ‘I need to still go because even though I’m not having a good day, maybe I can make someone else’s day,’” Derria said.
She said one of the greatest rewards of volunteering at the Family Hope Center is being able to connect with people and having the chance to improve their day. Derria and Thanh agree that simple acts, whether that’s a smile or remembering a child’s name, can make a big impact.
While the pair has enjoyed the opportunity to pour into the kids of the Family Hope Center, they both have found community and encouragement too. For Thanh, she experienced deep tragedy and grief the first year she began volunteering.
“When I first started volunteering, that same year, my younger brother had passed away, and I remember Ms. Keri showing up to his funeral,” she shared. “I didn’t expect her to show up, and I was just so happy to see someone that I love being around. She would always check up on me, and it was something that really helped me through my healing process. So I feel like my way of contributing positivity back into the world is through volunteering, showing up and just being there for other people.”
After graduating high school this year, they will start a new adventure that takes them away from the Family Hope Center, but they still want to volunteer when they can.
“We promised each other and Keri that we would still be committed to coming back at least one a year [to volunteer], hopefully more,” Thanh said with a smile.
Pettis knows she will miss seeing the two girls volunteer consistently every week but is excited for their next chapter and is immensely proud of what they’ve accomplished as high school students.
“Volunteerism is an action that can be an opportunity for self-reflection,” Pettis said. “It allows you to become temporarily knitted into the lives of people that may or may not live in your community. While serving, you are exposed to a boundless love and create genuine relationships with people you wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise.
“That is true for our very own volunteers, Thanh and Derria,” she continued. “Because they served in diverse capacities, they connected with vulnerable children and families but also networked with community partners and leaders. I hope this exposure has allowed them to see they can enter any room and be valued and appreciated for their talents and time.”