More than 100 years ago, women of the United Methodist Church in Fort Worth established a “mission” to serve some of the city’s most needy residents.
In 1909 they organized the first of what would become a total of three United Community Centers in low-income neighborhoods that operate to serve struggling families and provide a safe learning and recreational environment for young people.
The first center was Wesley on the north side. Then came Bethlehem on the south side in 1938 — initially to provide childcare for working parents — and the Polytechnic Center was built in 1975 in collaboration with the city of Fort Worth.
A few years ago, United Community Centers approved a plan to rebuild each of the aging facilities, beginning with the now-completed Poly site. This month, local officials joined in a ground-breaking ceremony for the new 16,000-square-foot Bethlehem Center on Evans Avenue, next to a 4,000-square-foot 1930’s-era building that will be renovated and incorporated into the new facility. Plans are to break ground for the new Wesley Center this fall.
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Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks, who as a youth spent many hours after school and during the summer at Bethlehem, noted how important that special place was for him and his schoolmates back in the Jim Crow era when there were few places outside of school and church for black kids to play, be nurtured by caring adults and learn leadership skills.
Bethlehem Center provided those things for 75 years, and today it also offers programming for youth in self-esteem, job readiness and personal growth; a food pantry and clothing service; and assistance with basic needs, including rent and utility assistance.
The new facility is a true community project, being built with $4.9 million in federal Housing and Urban and Development money allocated by the Fort Worth City Council. Furniture and equipment are being paid for through the Bethlehem Capital Campaign, a grant from the Rainwater Charitable Foundation and individual donations.