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San Antonio was our home base when my husband was in the Air Force. He did his medical residency at Wilford Hall Medical Center and, once we found Stone Oak, we agreed that whenever we left San Antonio for a year or so, we would return to this neighborhood for the sake of our kids. We’ve now owned three homes in Stone Oak and witnessed a lot of change in this part of town.

This area was mostly undeveloped land when we first moved here. Since then, we’ve seen subdivisions built and neighbors move in, new schools and businesses, and busier streets. Now that our children are adults and off on their own, we could downsize and move to a new neighborhood. But, as I joke with my husband Chris, I have a gas station, an H-E-B, and a Starbucks — everything I need — so there’s no reason for us to leave.

But really it’s our incredible Stone Oak community that we can’t bear to part with.

I often think of two main communities that have defined my time in Stone Oak: the disability community and the arts community. I dedicated 18 years to caring for our son, Robert, at home. He had a rare mitochondrial disease that caused him to have all types of seizures and he required special round-the-clock care. Though at times my community felt very small and narrow, it also meant it was more intimate. Knowing other families going through similar experiences and working together to do what’s best for our family members and advocate for inclusivity in our community really brought us together.

I’ll never forget the year that my daughter, Eliotte Nicole, graduated from Reagan High School and she was receiving special honors for academics during a ceremony at the football field. Because Robert was with us, my husband and I sat with him in the bleachers and couldn’t join her on the field like the families of the other students. However, the principal and teachers of Stone Oak Elementary offered to take care of Robert so that Chris and I could join Eliotte Nicole on the field for her special moment. The principal told me something I’ll always hold onto: that all our kids are in “specials.”

Robert was in the special education program and our other kids had gone through the gifted program. We were blessed to have our oldest daughter, Jessica, as a member of the Reagan band and orchestra; our oldest son, James, on the Reagan varsity basketball team; and Robert’s twin sister, Victoria, as part of the Bush Middle School orchestra before she decided to be home-schooled and closer to Robert during his final years. They were all special. It was gratifying to me because, in that moment, I realized what a community we had in Stone Oak.

When Robert passed away in 2015, my neighbors came out in multitudes. They brought food and came to the door asking what they could do. They became very special parts of my memory for that February. Some of them have moved away and still send Christmas cards. I just got one this past holiday season from a neighbor who was here and remembers crying with me when the ambulance, fire truck and sheriff came to the house. When Robert passed and my neighbors attended his funeral, they weren’t just my neighbors. They were part of our family. This kind of support for our family was the reason I started the In Our Arms blog last year to help other families like ours caring for a child with a disability. It all began in Stone Oak.

Stone Oak is also where my family really blossomed in the arts. It’s where I established JH Voice Studio, where I share my passion for singing through private voice lessons. It’s where my children were active in music at the local schools and studied dance at Heather Stolle’s School of Dance. Though I couldn’t be there for every single concert and recital, my kids were so understanding. And the friendships they built through school and their involvement in the arts are still going strong. It’s wonderful to see my children, now adults, reconnect with childhood friends whenever they’re in town for a visit. Not only that but to become inspirations for new generations in Stone Oak. Eliotte Nicole, who is now a backup singer for Taylor Swift, has gone back to Reagan to speak to the choir and dance team about her experience. Needless to say, I’m very proud. 

I’m also so proud when I see my voice students hone their craft and go on to use their voices for good. Amanda Hardy, who was one of the choir directors at Reagan High School, was one of my students at JHVS and went on to be one of the best choir directors I’ve seen. It’s so beautiful and humbling to see kids from the community grow up and grow their talents.

Now that my husband and I are empty-nesters, we have more time to explore the neighborhood. We have beautiful trails that we’ve enjoyed with our children, as well as with visitors. Our CrossBridge Community Church is a part of our neighborhood and much like the beautiful neighborhood trails, it joins many people together throughout Stone Oak and beyond. I’m a big coffee drinker and, aside from Starbucks, we have Local Coffee and the recently opened Pan & Coffee, which is always packed. I love the local H-E-B, which I jokingly call the Gucci H-E-B. It’s small enough so that you can just run in and grab the things you need and be out in no time. And my favorite restaurant just outside of Stone Oak has to be Silo Elevated Cuisine.

A wonderful family owns Stone Oak Jewelers, which we’ve been going to for years. Most recently, we went there while preparing for Eliotte Nicole’s wedding. Bella Bridal boutique, where the staff treated my daughter so well, was right next door, so it was like a one-stop-shop. Then when Eliotte Nicole and her husband, Ryan, were expecting their first child, my dear girlfriends organized a drive-by baby shower for her, and seeing all the decorated cars and hearing the excited honks and hollers was a beautiful reminder that, even during a pandemic, our community was connected and wanted to celebrate with us.

And that’s really what makes Stone Oak special for us. We know we have a community we can count on, one that continues to support and uplift each other through moments of mourning and celebration. That’s not easy to come by.

Juli Henderson

Juli Henderson is the owner of JH Voice Studio and founder of the In Our Arms blog.

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