By Sriya Reddy
FORT WORTH — Annabell Rodriguez loved going fast. No toy, whether it was a drifter car or an electric scooter, was fast enough for the 10-year-old.
This weekend, Annabell’s mother, Monica Gallegos, was treated, along with 61 other Uvalde residents, to a weekend at the races at Texas Motor Speedway — four months after Annabell and 18 of her classmates and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting.
“Yesterday, what was going through my head seeing the car racing was: ‘My baby would have loved to be out here,’ ” Gallegos said.
In the four months since the Uvalde mass shooting, the community has been working toward rebuilding and healing. 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 the Uvalde Strong/Rise Up Weekend.
Mayela Castañon, CEO of Community Health Development Inc., said they wanted to have this event to provide some joy for the families of Uvalde.
“This event has been a little bit of a miracle in my eyes because with so many negative things happening in this world, especially this past few years, it has brought faith in humanity, that there are some people that care,” Castañon said.
She has lived in Uvalde for over 50 years and loves the closeness of her community. She recalls what families told her as they came to Texas Motor Speedway. One parent said she wanted to fly to the race so that when they were in the clouds, she could talk to her son. Others, like Gallegos, knew that the children they lost would have loved to be there.
“I think that’s the main thing — that they know that we’re there for them,” Castañon said. “We cannot bring back their children, but we are trying to work to make it better next year for the new next generation.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America CEO Artis Stevens said that as the nonprofit builds relationships in Uvalde, it also wants families to experience joy, which many haven’t been able to do in a while.
“The amount of laughter that we’ve heard this weekend. It’s just been awesome. It’s been 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 in this journey, they’re not in this walk, alone.”
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 said this weekend is indicative of what is to come.
“We’re bringing these families, for a moment, to be able to celebrate,” Stevens said. “To celebrate their resiliency, to celebrate their strength, their courage, but also symbolic of the sense of building a stronger connection and partnership about services beyond this.”
CORRECTION, 9:24 a.m., Sept. 26, 2022: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Mayela Castañon as the CEO of Community Health Organization Inc. It is Community Health Development Inc..