As former First Lady Laura Bush and daughter Barbara Pierce Bush were ushered into the Omni Dallas Hotel’s Fair Park Room, the lineup of the Gateway To Opportunity Luncheon guests for the meet-and-greet had already queued up on Thursday, October 5. Perfectly organized, the Bush ladies greeted each guest as if that guest was the special person of the day.
Three couples especially welcomed were the late Family Gateway Founder Annette Strauss’ daughters Nancy Halbreich and Janie McGarr, Luncheon Co-Chairs Paula and Bay Miltenberger and the day’s Annette G. Strauss Community Service Awardee Peter Brodsky and his wife Lael Brodsky.
In less than 20 minutes the meet-and-greet had ended and the Bush ladies were escorted to a holding room.
In the meantime, the ballroom filled with more than 700 guests including Lottye and Bobby Lyle, Tracy and Ben Lange, Tracy Rathbun, Lisa Cooley, Tiffany Divis, Laura and Jason Downing, Gina and Ken Betts, Caren Prothro, Rabbi David Stern, Gerald Turner, Linda Silver and Sunie Solomon.
With the recent developments in the Gaza Strip, Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Debra Robbins gave a poignant invocation for the crowd.
In receiving the Award, Peter admitted that the day was indeed amazing. Not only receiving the award named after former Mayor Annette Strauss, but also the prospect of being onstage with Laura and Barbara.
In addition to Peter’s receiving the award, the late 18-year-old Logan Betts and former Family Gateway Board Chair Stephen Hipp were honored for their hands-on support of the organization over the years.
Unlike the gray draping of the meet-and-greet, the ballroom’s stage backdrop looked like a luxurious mountain lodge. Actually, it was the result of the night before’s M.D. Anderson fundraiser that had featured Garth Brooks.
After a brief break for lunch to take place, the program got underway with Family Gateway CEO/President Ellen Magnis reporting that Family Gateway is determined to prevent children from sleeping in cars due to being homeless. When shelters are full, the organization pays to provide hotel rooms for families in need. As a result of changing the model of helping families on a first-come, first-serve basis to a diversion method, they were able this past year to serve four times the number of families with a little more than twice the budget with this new approach. She recognized and thank the Housing Forward and Crystal Charity Ball for helping Family Gateway to continue this Assessment and Diversion model that includes landlord mediation/eviction prevention and family reunification, as well as find alternatives options to traditional shelters. It is far less expensive to help a family stabilize outside a shelter than to bring every family into the shelter as the primary solution.
To provide additional housing for families going through the trauma of being homeless, Family Gateway would soon be providing a former Candlewood Suites property in Far North Dallas that had been renovated to provide emergency housing. Families will have their own rooms, bathrooms and kitchenettes as well as resources to help them recover from their homelessness.
Following a video testimonial by a Family Gateway client, Louis Murad held a call for cash.
Then it was time for Laura, Barbara and Peter to take their places on stage.
Laura and Barbara seemed much more at home talking about their post-White House days.
Laura recalled how as children they had taken the twins to the State Fair, where Jenna with her cheerleader pompoms had been surprisingly subdued in support of her entry in the pig race. The next day they were a bit amazed that Jenna told classmates about enthusiastically cheering for her entry. (More about that later.)
Laura and Barbara began with a Bush family update including former President Bush who was at the family ranch preparing to host a Veteran’s Day cycling event. Laura also said the former President is painting “prolifically — despite the fact that he never paid attention to the world class art that hung in the White House while we lived there.”
On the subject of Laura’s other daughter/Barbara twin/Today Show” co-host Jenna Hager, Laura started off by saying that George claims that Jenna is carrying on the Bush tradition of warm relations with the media.
Barbara fessed up that even as youngsters, the family knew Jenna “was desperate to be an entertainer.” As a child she had her sights on Broadway and had the chance to audition for Broadway’s “Les Miserables. ” However, Barbara admitted that being “well fed Texans really didn’t scream the French Revolution. It didn’t pan out.”
Laura elaborated on the story about the girls attending the State Fair and going to the pig races. “You could volunteer to be a cheerleader for a pig, so Jenna volunteered to be the cheerland for the red pig. She got there with her two little pompoms and she stood there and barely shook her pompoms. Then the next day I heard her telling a friend, ‘Then I said, “Go, pig, go!” Then I said, “My pig is red hot,”‘ and all these things she wished she had said. She’s always been pretty dramatic.”
When asked what lessons and tenets are important when rearing children in a high-profile world, both women reiterated that a “show, not tell” method of child-rearing led to a life of service instilled by both sets of grandparents, the world-renowned Bushes and the not-so-high-profile Welches in Midland. Barbara said she and Jenna intend to set examples, rather than set edicts for their children.
Barbara elaborated about letters that she found when President George H. W. Bush was in his final days that revealed how many accomplishments the young man had achieved that were never made public in his 95 years. “We all know the legendary military accomplishments, but he was as much a quiet leader at the age of seventeen and he never boasted about his less-public achievements in school and community service.”
Laura reiterated that she believes her daughters had a “humble, normal” childhood beginning in Midlandm which transformed to “exceptional circumstances.”
Barbara then expressed how important that traveling with her parents had been during the Bush’s tenure in the Austin and Washington, providing exceptional insight and knowledge that led exceptional careers. “I ended up in the NBA organization because of my obsession with public health. The pandemic allowed the NBA to host Covid-testing, vaccinations, even voting/polling places at arenas while the teams were still playing in a bubble. Yet, that ‘bubble’ provided a great forum. I feel that my first year of working with the NBA is enabling the NBA to help people globally.”
Laura wrapped up the discussion with her thoughts on Family Gateway (and other non-profits throughout the country who address homelessness): “Family homelessness is an education issue — if you don’t have a home, you can’t get a good education. School districts rely on where people live, parents — many of whom are without jobs and doing the best they can — need the combination of a safe place to live and a safe place to learn.”