A plan to deliver a community center to the Las Vegas Trail area could become reality by October, and residents will see the first visible sign rolling in Thursday afternoon.
As a precursor to the opening of a brick-and-mortar facility, which appears certain to be what is now the West Side YMCA, the Las Vegas Trail Revitalization Project and Catholic Charities of Fort Worth have created a mobile community center that will serve the area at least once a week over the next five to six months.
The 45-foot-long RV, emblazoned with the now-familiar hashtag #LVTRise and rising sun logo, will be staffed by a rotation of social services now providing needed resources to the underserved Trail. It will provide a glimpse into the services and programs that will be available at the community center, as well as data that the revitalization committee will use to gauge program demand.
"This lets the community know this community center is going to happen," said Councilman Brian Byrd, who made the poverty-stricken area a focus of his agenda after a Star-Telegram report in June exposed long-neglected issues and a lack of resources such as child care and healthcare. "This is Step 1 of that becoming a reality."
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Residents made it clear through multiple community meetings with Byrd, Las Vegas Trail Revitalization director TD Smyers and the revitalization committee that a community center is the area's No. 1 need, specifically to provide after-school care to the thousands of students in the area.
By October, Byrd said, he hopes to have a director and a small staff hired and ready to open the community center inside the existing West Side YMCA on Calmont Avenue, about a mile east of Las Vegas Trail.
And by the start of next school year, Byrd envisions providing after-school programs for the approximately 2,200 students who attend Western Hills Elementary and Primary schools and Leonard Middle School. Such a program would bring needed relief for working parents lacking options for supervised child care in a neighborhood beset by crime, violence and drugs.
Western Hills Elementary School, for example, has after-school capacity for only about a quarter of its more than 800 students.
Byrd said his plan would not cap the number of students able to receive after-school care. He said he hopes to the have the program funded by August, in time for the 2018-19 school year, and he estimated a cost of $1,000 a student.
"That’s what we’re going to shoot for," Byrd said. "What we have now is great in quality but insufficient in terms of quantity."
The community center will also have a hand in providing supervised and structured after-school programs. The plan to transform the YMCA includes the creation of the nonprofit organization LVT Rise and the hiring of an operational staff. Byrd said he hopes "to be in the city's budget by Oct. 1" to fund operational costs.
Negotiations to purchase the building from the YMCA are in the early stages. Byrd said some of the $500,000 contained in the city's 2018 bond program to establish a park on nearby South Normandale Street will instead be used to purchase the YMCA. The YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth has said membership at that branch has been declining for years, and the agency appears eager to make a deal benefiting the community.
The YMCA would remain involved in the facility, likely handling sports leagues, swim lessons and other programs.
"We're excited about the direction we’re going in," said Tony Shuman, president and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth. "We want to be part of the plan. I don’t see any huge hurdles that we have to get over from making sure that this deal can happen."
After the building's transition, the committee will discuss plans to either expand it or potentially build a new facility, Byrd said.
All sides would first like to see early signs of community participation, like residents of the nearby low-income apartments visiting the mobile center and taking advantage of the social services provided.
Programs that will be offered starting this week include after-school activities for children, English as a second language and food distribution. Other programs geared toward health and wellness, adult learning and job certification will be available on a rotating basis.
Jeff Caplan, 817-390-7705