August settled in as neighbors along Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail went about the business of gearing up for the start of classes.
Parents, grandparents and great-grandparents showed up at the main office of Western Hills Elementary with questions in Spanish and English about uniforms, immunization records and the district’s new online enrollment.
Outside, a sign welcomed families and urged them to “Meet The Teacher.”
“Here, everyone is kind. Everyone takes care of the children,” said Maria Hernandez, the mother of a 10-year-old Western Hills Elementary fifth-grade student.
The children aren’t far from the minds of residents along Las Vegas Trail. Of late, residents recall how 13-year-old Dorika Uwimana was attacked and choked as she was waiting for a school bus in April. Dorika’s assault spurred Pastor Derwin Harris of Restoration Center West Fort Worth to gather volunteers to escort children along the school routes in the neighborhood.
“Those of us who went out went out every day,” said Harris, explaining that his vision was for platoons of volunteers to help patrol the streets to keep children safe.
More than a year after the Star-Telegram focused on life along the Las Vegas Trail, several community projects are underway that focus on children. Other efforts aim to build a stronger community by helping lift people out of poverty and hunger, including opening a community center that can serve children while helping adults break out of the cycle of poverty.
“I’ve seen community participation and people with heightened concern about making the neighborhood better,” Harris said. “I have seen that rise.”
A focus on children
Fort Worth Councilman Brian Byrd said the work to improve the neighborhoods near the Las Vegas Trail is patterned after Jubilee Park in Dallas, which is turning a neighborhood around by addressing a number of social concerns, including health/wellness, safety, education and poverty.
Byrd said residents told leaders they want a safer community and place for children to go after school. Throughout much of the year, he has worked with United Way of Tarrant County, Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, Fort Worth schools, police, nonprofits and neighborhood volunteers to answer that community request.
Byrd said principals at the two Western Hills campuses are working to increase after school programing.
“Our goal is to get 100 percent of the students at both schools in an after-school program, if they so desire,” Byrd said.
Work is also underway to deliver a community center at the site of the West Side YMCA, 8201 Calmont Ave. That facility will be another place for youngsters to be when school is out.
A 45-foot-long RV, with the hashtag #LVTRise and rising sun logo on the side, has been delivering social services to the people of Las Vegas Trail for more than 20 weeks. Once the community center opens, this work will move to the community center and deliver more programs for children.
Funding for that project recently received a boost thanks to a $100,00 donation-matching grant from Allison and Terry Montesi, longtime supporters of the United Way.
In July, the Boys & Girls Club opened at the Cambridge Courts Apartments, giving the area another place for after-school programs once classes begin.
Two full-time staffers worked with about 50 children throughout the summer.
“There is an idea that there was not a lot going on out there and the teens were getting in trouble,” said Matthew Sinclair, the club’s branch site director, explaining how they came up with a program that was the right fit for the community.
Sinclair said the after-school program will serve dinner and offer age-specific programs, including drug and alcohol prevention and life choice themes for teens.
“The number one goal is giving them a safe place to go,” Sinclair said.
A focus on safety
While there have been efforts to make the community safer, much work remains, Byrd said.
“We are still not there,” said Byrd, alluding to recent criminal cases.
Byrd said he found some good signs in the June monthly crime report. Assaults were down in June compared with 2017; aggravated assaults fell from 16 to two.
Fort Worth Police Commander Cynthia O’Neil, who is in the city’s west patrol division, said the area benefited from a summer grant that allowed extra policing on weekends and increased monitoring of security cameras.
Those efforts end as August draws to an end, she said. Still, families can find some comfort in the fact that police are focused on keeping children in the area safe.
“We are aware of the routes to school our officers are keeping an eye on them,” O’Neil said, adding that she would like to see more community efforts like the one Harris started after Dorika’s case.
For safety reasons, the school bus stop was relocated the day after Dorika was attacked as ordered by the principal at the International Newcomer Academy, said Faiha Al-Atrash, the parent coordinator at the school.
Superintendent Kent Scribner said the district is always working with police departments to make sure students, parents and staff are safe.
“Words cannot express the gratitude to those who risk their own safety whether it be in the Las Vegas Trail area or any other part of our city to protect those young people who will eventually lead our great community,” Scribner said.
Dorika, a student at the international academy, was brutally beaten in April. She is sitting up, talking and doing well after heart transplant surgery needed after the attack.
“She is really a lucky girl,” said Al-Atrash, explaining that medical personnel at the Dallas hospital where she received the new heart are training her parents to give Dorika her medicine and the other care that she will need to continue her recovery.
Dorika will need some medication for the rest of her life, Al-Atrash said.
“Dorika spoke to me over the phone,” Al-Atrash said. “She said she loved me and missed everyone at INA so much.”
The family of six is still struggling financially but supporters have raised more than $10,000 of a $25,000 goal, Al-Atrash said. She said the family needs a new car because the brakes are going out on their car.
“This is such a tragic circumstance for the family, Al-Atrash said.
How to help
Those who with the contribute to offset Dorika’s medical expenses can do so at GoFundMe, Search for Dorika Uwimana.