The washer and dryer unit rolled off the delivery truck to smiles all around at Western Hills Primary School, a gift from Texas Appliance that felt like an early Christmas present for the west-side campus overflowing with children who live in poverty.
Sometimes it takes asking what someone needs to fulfill a wish. So when a Star-Telegram editor asked Principal Sonya Kelly what her school needed most after a town hall meeting to discuss the problems that plague the beleaguered Las Vegas Trail area, her response of a washer and dryer was met quizzically at first.
Until Kelly explained.
“We end up having quite a few students come to school dirty,” Kelly said. “We have students that are chronically coming dirty and they know they smell, they knew why their clothes are turned inside-out and we’d like the opportunity to wash their clothes and give them temporary clothes to change into so they don’t have to come to school dirty or deal with the stigma of being a dirty kid. Kids will come in with a strong stench.
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“Sometimes,” Kelly continued, “they share a bed, and if there’s a bed-wetter, they come to school smelling of urine if they don’t get a bath.”
And now Kelly — who was unaware of a study showing a link between clean clothes and school attendance — has her washer and dryer, which was delivered Friday.
It is just one of the many stories of giving and kindness that have taken place over the past five months since a Star-Telegram report brought this area of low-income, high-density apartments riddled by unemployment and crime to the attention of city leaders and citizens alike.
While City Councilman Brian Byrd has created the Las Vegas Trail Revitalization Project, an almost unending list of charitable organizations, social services and mobilized individuals have delivered a love and kindness to help benefit the residents of this area, and especially the 1,600 elementary school children and hundreds more who attend Leonard Middle School and Western Hills High School.
From the start of a Facebook page called LVT Love that promotes volunteerism in the area to a number of organizations like Abdul Chappell’s Build a Better Hood Foundation and Derwin Harris’ The Restoration Center, the long-neglected Las Vegas Trail area might now have the largest network of mobilized charities, social services and volunteers in the city.
“It says within the human spirit there is goodness in us,” the Rev. Raul Gutierrez of Western Hills United Methodist Church said, reflecting on the recent surge in volunteerism that has spanned skin color and financial means during this particular time of divisiveness throughout the country.
“As a person of faith and a minister, I preach that we have goodness that is God’s. But because we have free choice, we also battle against those human instincts that are bad. When people respond with goodness it is a gift that we have and a gift that we can cultivate.”
Among the groups helping the Las Vegas Trail area are Build a Better Hood Foundation and Derwin Harris’ The Restoration Center, Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, Western Hills United Methodist Church, Goodwill, The Mission Continues, SteerFW, Live Thankfully, Grace Baptist Church and the United Way of Tarrant County.
Grassroots spring to action
Grassroots movements such as LVT Love have been especially inspirational.
Aledo native Miranda Carter, 38, a mom of four, started the page because she felt a calling to help the children in the troubled neighborhood, and she started the page simply to engage others about how best to make a difference.
Soon, close friends Kendall Sadler and Kelly Bush joined her, and ever since, LVT Love has been a near-nonstop presence at Western Hills elementary and primary schools.
“The response I got was crazy,” Carter said. “People were asking what can we do, how can we help and tons of people were providing great ideas. We want [LVT Love] to be kind of a hub for people. Everybody’s gifts are different, whether it’s serving, time, money, whatever resources you have is what we want you to give.”
The group provided breakfast for teachers on the first day of school and brought Thanksgiving pies this week. They sponsored the “Clap-In” to start the second six-week period of school and have donated countless loads of school supplies, clothes, shoes and more.
“It means everything,” Kelly, the primary school principal, said of the group’s contributions. “When you work in a high-needs community and high-needs campus, you can start to feel alone, because there are a lot of needs that have to be met.”
They partnered with Western Hills United Methodist Church, across the street from the elementary school to hold a well-attended Halloween event, and throughout November, they’ve cooperated on a hugely successful blanket and coat drive.
Monday, Carter, Byrd and about a dozen Fort Worth police officers joined Harris and his Restoration Center to pass out more than 300 turkeys to residents on Las Vegas Trail.
Alumnus answers call
Western Hills High Class of 1982, spurred by Patty Pressley who grew up in the area, recently organized the donation of a full-size freezer stocked with frozen meals and a microwave to the boys’ athletic department.
The idea came to her after hearing a Western Hills coach speak at the initial Revitalization Project meeting about the terrific students at the school, but how some of them, many who live in Las Vegas Trail apartment complexes, don’t eat proper meals at home, and come to school hungry.
“There’s been other donations,” Western Hills football coach Blake Moilan said. “One lady came up and said, ‘I don’t have much,’ and gave us a pound of ground beef. The outpouring of support has been fantastic. We keep those in the field house for the kids that are here afterward, not just athletics, but any kid that needs a meal.”
It took less than 24 hours for word to get out about the freezer and microwave, and someone else matched the donation with another for the girls’ athletic department.
Pressley, who only recently moved back to Fort Worth, is starting a nonprofit, the Cougar Pride Foundation, that will be dedicated to supplying the high school and its students with necessities.
They’ve already secured a temporary building at the high school that is being transformed into a clothing and food pantry. Friday, she and other volunteers prepared 100 bags of food for students to take home so they’ll have food during this weeklong Thanksgiving break.
“It seems so many people who moved away are moving back, and people that are coming back to Fort Worth want to get involved in helping this particular neighborhood and our school,” Pressley said.
Chappell, the felon-turned-activist, was released from prison three years ago. He started dedicating his efforts to Las Vegas Trail long before the recent spotlight was shined on the area.
Every day, Chappell and his small group of volunteers provide after-school care for the area’s children, plus enrichment courses and job training opportunities for adults through his Build a Better Hood Foundation.
Chappell often posts his foundation’s work and coming events on LVT Love, which has 950 members, allowing the groups from opposite ends of the spectrum to coordinate and collaborate their efforts.
The seeds of giving have been planted in this neighborhood of need. Now the goal is to continue to strengthen the movement.
“It’s a great thing that outside people are helping. The LVT Love site has been real helpful in connecting people to do a lot of the personal stuff and a lot of the volunteer stuff,” Chappell said. “I think people are starting to get the picture that it’s going to take the community to really get involved.
“People are starting to see a path to bettering the community and it’s something that we all have to work together.”