FORT PRICE – Annabelle Rodriguez liked to go fast. No toy, be it a passenger car or an electric scooter, was fast enough for the 10-year-old.
This weekend, Annabelle’s mother, Monica Gallegos, along with 61 other Uvalde residents, were treated to a race at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend — four months after Annabelle and 18 of her classmates and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting.
“The thing that went through my head while watching the car race yesterday was, ‘My son would love to be here,'” Galgos said.
In the four months since the Uvalde mass shooting, the community has been working to rebuild and heal. To lift spirits and build relationships in Uvalde, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America partnered with Uvalde organizations to bring city residents to the NASCAR AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway for Uvalde Strong/Rise Up Weekend.
Community Health Organization Inc. CEO Mayela Castanon said they wanted to hold this event to give some joy to the families of Uvalde.
“This event was a bit of a miracle in my eyes because with the many negative things that have happened in this world, especially in the last few years, it has brought faith in humanity, that there are some people who care,” Castañon said.
She has lived in Uvalde for over 50 years and loves the closeness of her community. She remembers what families told her when they came to Texas Motor Speedway. One parent said she wanted to fly to the races so she could talk to her daughter while they were in the clouds. Others, like Gallegos, knew the children they lost loved being there.
“I think that’s the main thing – they know we’re there for them,” Castanon said. “We cannot bring their children back, but we are trying to make it better for the new generation next year.”
Artis Stevens, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, said the nonprofit organization wants families to experience joy while building relationships in Uvalde, something many have not been able to do for a long time.
“The amount of laughter we heard over the weekend. It was just cool. It’s out of this world, but it’s also something else,” Stevens said. “It’s the idea that these families, these young people, know that they’re not on this journey, that they’re not alone on this walk.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters hopes to increase its presence in Uvalde and is in the early stages of partnering with schools, community centers and other organizations. Stevens is indicative of what is to come this weekend.
“We’re bringing these families together for a moment, so they can celebrate,” Stevens said. “To celebrate their resilience, to celebrate their strength, their courage, but beyond that, it’s symbolic of building strong relationships and partnerships about services.”