By Chelsea Quackenbush
Photos by Russ Dilday
If there's one word to describe the atmosphere at the Wynnewood Family Hope Center in South Dallas, it’s "momentum."
The physical building looks like the rest of the red brick apartment complexes surrounding it, but the difference is inside. There are daily classes changing families; there are Bible studies changing lives; there are youth programs pointing kids in the direction of success.
It's a vastly different community from 10 years ago; in fact, it's a vastly different community from just a year ago. Although many of the families are in deep-rooted, generational patterns of poverty, beams of hope are poking through.
According to Hope Center director Cheryl Williams, people are “taking a deep breath and relaxing their shoulders” a little bit after years of struggle.
"This community is changing, absolutely," Williams said. "People are employed and not just employed, but maintaining their employment. Couples are going to counseling. Parents are getting help for their kids. You're now seeing people take a deep breath for the first time, probably in a long time. I think you saw it before in chunks, bits and pieces, but I'm telling you, 2013 has been a turnaround year. We've really seen some quick transformations happening."
Williams and Hope Center case manager Sandra Martinez said the number one issues families in Wynnewood face is a lack of jobs and steady employment, which means they have little money to pay rent or provide food for their families. Most families have trouble making ends meet and have to rely on government assistance to survive.
Buckner staff has worked hard to get families involved in the vocational training programs so they can give them the tools and skills to help themselves.
The Hope Center has a partnership with Mountain View College, which allows professors and teachers to offer free classes for residents at Wynnewood. They can choose from residential property management, retail customer service, introduction to welding technology and basic computer classes. Mountain View and Buckner work together to offer the classes at times that are convenient for residents. Once they finish classes, they earn a certificate and college credit, which they can put on their resume.
For many Wynnewood residents, taking a class from Mountain View is the closest they've been to setting foot on a college campus. Some of the residents have been able to go on campus for welding classes, which has whet their appetite for more, Williams said. More than 60 people have completed courses and earned a certificate.
"People are grabbing hold of the horns, if you will, and saying, 'I want that,'" Williams said. "When I got here five years ago, I told my staff, I never want to hear you say, 'You can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink. They won't show up for classes.' I never want to hear us say that because it's our calling to make them thirsty. And this year, we are putting the thirst out there."
One of the most recent additions to the lineup of classes and services is Jobs for Life, a Buckner-led class that teaches biblically-based, timeless workplace principles and skills. The first class graduated in the spring and almost all of the students have found steady employment.
Eileen Wallace is one of those people. A single mother of three teenagers, she struggled to find consistent work and had a hard time providing for her family. But after taking Jobs for Life, she now knows what employers are looking for and what she wants to do with her life.
"Jobs for Life taught me a lot because I didn't have any interview skills," Wallace said. "I didn't know how to do a resume. I didn't have long-goal plans at all, no vocational plans, nothing. I was just sitting at home, doing nothing. I was in a slump, as they say. My mother passed in 2011 so I was just down. Ms. Sandra came along and invited me. She said, 'If you go to these classes, you might feel a little better.' She said, 'Ms. Wallace, you can do it.'"
Wallace plans to attend school in the fall to become a pharmacy technician. She takes every class she can at the Hope Center. She took a cooking and healthy eating class, a parenting class and fitness classes. Her daughter and twin sons are very involved in the after-school program as well.
She has lived in the community for 10 years and said that since the Hope Center started offering classes, she has seen changes in her neighborhood.
"It used to be chaos when I first moved over here," she said. "And it's not anymore. It's calm; it's quiet."
"We did our first Jobs for Life class in the spring and had a great turnout," Martinez said. "In the class, we talk about roadblocks, which include no child care, no job, and how you overcome that. Well, there are resources out there and we can connect them with resources so they can push through and get a job, get their child care so they can work and eventually be able to provide for their own families. Our number one issue is no jobs."
The momentum at Wynnewood is so strong that "even the men are coming over here now," Williams said. "It used to be all the women over here. But now you're seeing strong men like Jairic Farley over here every day. We're a family over here; we hear it all the time: 'Y'all are my family.'"
Family is important to many in the community; unfortunately, some of the residents have found that as they start taking classes and learning job skills, their families turn their backs on them.
People were hesitant to open up at first, but as they've gotten to know Buckner staff, they've let them in their lives and have let them help.
"It feels like family with them," Williams said. "They feel like they’re at a place where they belong. It’s not just an apartment complex. It’s a place where they belong and it’s making all the difference right now."
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