When 12-year-old Gabriel won third place for his tornado-in-a-bottle science project, Eugene Helm IV jumped to his feet and erupted in joy.
The four other children roared, too.Just months before, Gabriel - a bully at school who wore gang-style clothes - would laugh out loud when handed back a failed assignment. But here he was on stage, gripping a trophy and basking in the applause, while Eugene beamed from the audience.
"You could see, ME, like a proud father," Eugene said, shaking his head incredulously.
In fact, Eugene is not the father of these five children - three boys and twin girls. He is their uncle.
And therein lies a very unusual Father's Day story - the story of how Eugene Helm IV became an instant father, putting aside his own dreams to embrace five children whose lives had been too harsh to harbor dreams.
Just a year ago, Eugene was a 25-year-old college student in Chicago, thinking of little else than organic chemistry, his job as a pharmacy assistant at a drugstore and his fiancee, Taneen.
His mother's death last July changed all that: It left homeless the five grandchildren she had been raising.
Quite honestly, Eugene hadn't given the youngsters much thought. He had come to Dallas to bury his mother and be on his way. He figured the kids - boys aged 7, 11 and 12 and 4-year-old twin girls - would be farmed out to relatives or foster care.
No one could blame him for going back to Chicago. He was a college student pursuing a career as a pharmacist and looking forward to a $60,000 salary. And there was his girlfriend. The week before his mother died, Taneen had mapped out their future - and that included three kids, tops.
The boys' mother had died and the girls' mother had been in and out of jail on drug charges. Eugene didn't even know who the children's fathers were.
But when he looked into their innocent faces, he saw his sisters. If he walked away, he worried the children would end up just like them - dead or addicted.
He toured the west Dallas housing projects where the twins were staying, and found the buildings soul-deadeningly grim. A relative who volunteered to take the boys never showed to pick them up. And Eugene got the feeling that some of the relatives just wanted the kids for their welfare benefits. Others, he knew, were drug abusers.
"What do I do? What do I do?," Eugene asked himself. "I've got a good job, school . . ."
Not to mention a bus ticket back to Chicago.
He scrapped the bus ticket and moved into his mother's apartment with the kids and his sister.
Eugene and Taneen moved their wedding date up and were married in April. He is taking the summer off so his new wife and family can get to know each other. Already, the kids are calling Taneen "momma-auntie"; they call Eugene "unkie" or "dad."