The Spirit of Giving In Fort Bend ISD

I am not going to talk about the Sugar Land 95.  I am not going to talk about VATRE.  I am not going to talk about school vouchers.  This column has never been about politics, and I am not going to start now.  I am going to talk about the Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD).  I want to remind all of my neighbors one of the biggest drivers for Fort Bend County being the most diverse county in the United States of America, with the highest average family salary and the highest per capita education level in Texas, is our stellar FBISD.  Those are facts.

If numbers don’t convince you, maybe an eyewitness account will help.  My former local church pastor sold his house in First Colony to an Asian-American (diversity) with a PhD (education and prosperity) from Massachusetts.  The man went to look at my pastor’s house without any family – just him and his realtor.  He walked through the front door into the foyer and stopped.  He asked my pastor if the house was zoned to a specific elementary school, a specific middle school and a specific high school in FBISD.  When my pastor confirmed his house was indeed zoned to the three specific schools he asked about, he said, “I’ll take it.”  He did not look in the kitchen, the family room, the master bedroom or his children’s bedrooms.  Our great public schools in Fort Bend ISD were the sole factor motivating this man.  I know my wife, Nancy, would not have been very happy if I bought a house for our family without walking past the foyer and missing the kitchen and master bedroom.

Sonal promoting her International Festival.

You have to have a huge heart to be the best in Texas in the public education sector like FBISD.  You have to care what the students and parents care about, and you have to make those cares and concerns the basis for EVERY action you take.  Recently, I saw first-hand the unparalleled commitment and love that motivates FBISD.  God has blessed me by putting two amazing, inspirational women in my life:  Sonal Bhuchar and Alyssa Ferguson.  On October 15, 2023, I joined an overflow crowd at the formal dedication of the brand-new Sonal Bhuchar Bengals Elementary School.  Just two short hours later, I was celebrating the opening of the gleaming Alyssa Ferguson Fireflies Elementary School.

Sonal and Alyssa had trailblazing impacts on FBISD.  Sonal Bhuchar Elementary was the FIRST school in FBISD named after an Indo-American, woman or man.  Alyssa was the FIRST student to have a school named after her in FBISD.  Both Sonal and Alyssa were taken from us was too soon by cancer.  I was honored to call Sonal a close friend.  The only time I encountered Alyssa was when she was preparing to throw the first pitch at a Sugar Land Skeeters’ baseball game at Constellation Field.   They were very different people who enriched my life, as well those who have been touched by their life stories.

Sonal Bhuchar                           

Sonal was born on June 30, 1960 in Mumbia, India.  She quickly broke through barriers of opportunity for women in India by earning a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from Bombay University.   She came to Sugar Land with her husband, Subodh, in 1984.  The Bhuchars quickly lived the American dream in Texas.  They were both active in practicing medicine in Fort Bend while raising three amazing children.  While Sonal’s profession was in healthcare, her true joy was giving every child she encountered a chance for them to live their own American dream.  Sonal ran for the FBISD Board of Trustees and won!  She eventually became the President of the Board.  During her tenure, she started the Fort Bend Education Foundation’s annual International Festival and many other activities to open the entire globe to FBISD students.

She was extremely intelligent and very beautiful.  She always put others ahead of herself.  She even came to our rescue on extremely short notice when Nancy needed help to properly fashion a sari for an Indo-American wedding.

When Sonal was called to Heaven on April 20, 2019, an effort started within FBISD to immortalize Sonal’s life of compassion and service to others.  By a unanimous vote, the FBISD Board of Trustees agreed to name elementary school #53 after Sonal.  I shed a tear as Fort Bend ISD Board of Regents President Judy Dae formally dedicated Sonal Bhuchar Elementary School.  None of this happens without a school district that has a heart – that’s Fort Bend Strong!

Alyssa Ferguson

Alyssa holding a photo of children in Murehwa, Zimbabwe.

My only direct encounter with Alyssa. Bald is beautiful!

I learned of Alyssa Ferguson’s amazing life of caring the year before brain cancer ended her time with us.  Alyssa was freshman at Ridge Point High School in FBISD, and she was only 15-years-old when her huge heart took its last beat on January 26, 2017.  For three years, Alyssa’s cancer kept coming back despite 28 days of proton radiation therapy, nine rounds of intense chemotherapy, six brain surgeries and multiple clinical trials.

Eventually, Alyssa was approached by our local Make-A-Wish Foundation.  Understandably, most children who are approached by Make-A-Wish ask to go to Disney World or to meet a famous person like Taylor Swift or Aaron Rodgers or Elton John or Kobe Bryant. Incredibly, Alyssa asked her father if she could selflessly give her wish away to a group of people she didn’t even know.  As a 5th grader, Alyssa read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  The book blends truth with fiction.  The prime character in the story, 11-year-old Nya, has to walk eight hours every day to get drinking water for her entire family in war-torn South Sudan.  Nya was a fictional character, but the desperate situation described in the book tore into Alyssa’s heart.  She asked her father if there were actually people in Africa who lived a life consumed by finding water.  Her dad told her the challenging search for water was true for millions of people.  Alyssa was stunned – if she was thirsty, she went to a faucet and got a glass of clean water.  She believed if she can have drinking water, they should have drinking water, too!  Alyssa’s dying wish was to give clean drinking water to poor people.  The village of Murehwa, Zimbabwe, received its own water well because of Alyssa Ferguson’s love for her fellow humans.  Since her passing, ”Alyssa’s World Changers Fund” has built three water wells in Myanmar and one each in India, Haiti, Kenya and South Sudan – EIGHT water wells for poor people around our world!

Alyssa’s family with FBISD leadership at her
school’s dedication

Once again, like Sonal, when our FBISD Board of Trustees learned about Alyssa’s unbelievable life of love and caring, they unanimously voted to name elementary school #54 after Alyssa Ferguson.  The mascot for Alyssa’s school is the Firefly because fireflies give light (water) to darkness (thirst).  I was one of over 200 people to attend the formal dedication of Alyssa’s school, and just like two hours before at Sonal’s school, I fought back tears with the official naming of Alyssa Ferguson Elementary School.  Another example of Fort Bend Strong!

This is our last Fort Bend Strong column for 2023.  If you’re having some difficulties getting into the spirit of giving, remember the gifts God gave us with Sonal and Alyssa.   Enjoy the holidays with family and friends.