Tracey Hardwick reminds us of Leigh Anne Tuohy—you know, the woman Sandra Bullock portrayed in The Blind Side? Like Tuohy, Hardwick is a strong Southern woman who holds Christianity and charity close to her heart. As the director of I Pour Life Texas, she helps at-risk and homeless youth in Dallas Independent School District and across North Texas reach their greatest potential, whether that’s walking them through graduation (the first goal), helping them get a driver’s license or signing them up for a bank account. We talked to the mom of four, including one adopted daughter, about what spurred her to leave her job as a news anchor and pursue her heart’s calling. Sometimes it takes a journey to another place to spark seeds of change at home—in Hardwick’s case, that place was Nigeria.
DFWChild: Let’s start from the beginning. When and how did I Pour Life Texas start? Tracey Hardwick: Back in 2008, my family and I…went on a mission trip. We went to Nigeria, and at that time, I was in the middle of my TV career, and the Lord had been so good and faithful to give me the joys of my heart. I loved my job, but I knew in that moment stepping into that orphanage deep in the jungle, I knew the Lord was calling me to do something else. I had no idea what it was or what it looked like. We came back to the States and worked for eight years. During those eight years, my spirit was stirring, and I started looking at what [my adopted daughter’s] life would have been like. I thought, “Oh, that’s just third world. That doesn’t happen in our country. We take care of our children that don’t have parents,” and in fact, we really don’t. I started to look at our system and saw that we were pretty broken. We weren’t really doing anything for these kids. I always look at them and say, “They didn’t choose this life. They would have chosen anything but this.” How as a community are we not stepping in to help them and help them rewrite that story? So at I Pour Life Texas, we pour life into people every day.
Child: How does I Pour Life Texas get involved? TH: Most of those kids that you see or know of that don’t have a home, couch surfing is a big term they use, which means they don’t have a home, so they will stay at a friends for a day or three until the mom and dad says, “Hey, why isn’t Jimmy at home?” A lot of these kids were coming from the foster care system but were leaving their foster family for multiple reasons. [They] were going to their independent school districts because they knew they could probably get a meal at breakfast time, probably get a meal at lunch for free, then maybe some resources through the counseling services. The state started welcoming these kids, but they weren’t in a place to help them. They didn’t have the services to help these extra kids. And so that’s where I Pour Life Texas comes in. We were in DISD last year. Our life coaches are paid positions. It is their job to engage and build a relationship with these kids.
Child: So then what does an average day look like for a life coach? TH: You walk a very fine line because first of all, these kids don’t want you to know they need help. Most of the time they are going to run the other direction. I remember the first time I came in, and I was doing a group setting. They were bringing me about 20 that were coded homeless or at-risk. I brought pizza, drinks and cookies and stuff like that. The kids came in, and they were so excited and eating. So I was letting them settle in and get comfortable, and one of the girls said, “Why am I here?” and another girl said, “Because you’re homeless,” and the girl said, “I’m not homeless.” She said, “Yes, you are.” They get up to engage in a physical altercation, so I walk over, and I said, “Nobody is homeless here. We are just having pizza. We’re going to have fun.” And they were the girls that ended up graduating at the end of the semester.
So I would spend the morning time with them, get a hot breakfast before they went to class. I would bring lunch every Wednesday, and we would sit and eat lunch together. From that relationship, you get those that would start to feel comfortable and they’ll say, “Hey, can you help me with something?” So it’s building that relationship first.
Child: How has I Pour Life Texas affected North Texas so far? TH: This past semester, we had 41 kids from DISD that were coded homeless or at-risk that were able to graduate. People want this big fancy plan of what we do, and I say, “You know, we’re really just their friend.” We really just build that relationship with them and then start to walk through life. How can we get them to school? How can we help them to do better in attendance, in grades, get a driver’s license, find a job, be able to manage money?
I think my eyes were opened the first day I opened into J.L. Patton. A young man came in who was not in any type of situation to be in school, and he says, “Are you a mom?” Ugh. And I said, “I am,” and he said, “I’d give anything if I had somebody that I could call my mom.” And he just wept for about five minutes. He said, “Why don’t you go put me in your car and show me where my home is. Show me where I lay my head at night. Show me where my clothes are. Show me where my food is. Show me where my family is, and then I’ll go home.” And it was in that moment I thought, “OK, we need to rally.” They didn’t choose this story, so we need to help them rewrite this story.
How to Get Involved
If you want to get involved, you too can be a life coach, but that is a full-time position. If you can’t give that much time, apply to be a community life coach, which requires less of a time commitment and is more about bringing a child to community events, church or sporting events. Sign up online at ipourlife.org. Monetary donations are accepted online, too.
I Pour Life Texas will be in Frisco ISD this coming year. Join the kickoff event on Oct. 18 from 7–11:30pm at Verona Villa. There will be a poker tournament as well as other tables for games, a performance by Downtown Fever and food from Outback Steakhouse. Tickets are $125 per person or $200 for a couple. Find the tickets on Eventbrite when they become available.
Join the Facebook group I Pour Life Texas.
Twitter and Instagram: @IPourLifeTexas
Image courtesy of I Pour Life Texas.