When Jen Pickering visited Chinquapin Prepartory School 10 years ago, she was so impressed with the students that she decided to volunteer to help out at the school, which provides college-preparatory education for youth from low-income families in the Houston area.
"We know that Chinquapin is about changing lives," she said. "What I didn't know about Chinquapin is that it would change our lives."
Not only have Jen and her husband Dan Pickering become one of the school's biggest champions, they have also provided a home to students from the South Sudan region of Africa and the Houston area, who went on to graduate from the private school, located in Highlands, east of Houston.
The Pickerings were honored at the annual Chinquapin gala at the Hotel ZaZa and, in keeping with the school motto of "Quid Pro Quo" (everyone involved gives back in return for the education they receive), Dan Pickering made guests an offer they couldn't refuse.
After noting that virtually all Chinquapin graduates go on to college and make their mark in the world, he announced that he and his wife would match all contributions made that night to the Chinquapin Sustainability Fund, an account set up for any emergencies that might arise in the future.
"We want to write a very big check," he said.
Heartfelt speeches from students Rahsaan King, Chassidy Smith and Eduardo Belalcazar, who just found out he had gotten accepted to the University of Texas, added a poignant touch to the evening.
Guests, many of whom are friends of the Pickerings (Dan is co-president of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.), joined in with students, teachers and Chinquapin supporters to make pledges on paddles at each table. Pledges, which can be paid over a 10-year-period, ranged from $212 from the Chinquapin senior class to several donations of $50,000 each from anonymous supporters.
More than $800,000 was pledged, which the Pickerings will match. Add in the nearly $450,000 that the gala had raised from table sales, and the grand total for the evening was more than $2 million.
Joining in the celebration were Chinquapin board of trustees president Leon Payne, the evening's co-chairs Teri and Jeff Lee, Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, Jane Howze and John Mann, Cris and Donna Gaut, Alie Pruner, Mike and Deb McShane, Julie and Leon Payne, and Benjamin and Sarah Wilbanks.
Also in the overflow crowd of 400 were Eddie Allen, Bess and Rob Wilson, Annie and Bob Graham, Blake Hawk and Denise Kuntz, Cecila and Emerson Hankamer, Carolyn and David Light and Channel 11 anchor Len Cannon and Bernadette Vervosa. Cannon had previously done a story on Chinquapin, which you can view here: