Last March’s sharp economic downturn left Willie Rankin and the 35 volunteers of LVTRise with an urgent new mission: helping to feed a growing unemployed Westside population and hundreds of newly homebound public school students. With the help of the Fort Worth school district, churches, numerous nonprofits, and extensive food pantries, Rankin said a hunger crisis was averted.
The executive director said his nearly 2-year-old nonprofit is now focused on providing a wide range of services for residents of the Las Vegas Trail community who are still dealing with the fallout from the pandemic.
Some of those efforts are straightforward. Rankin said he has helped several residents (including senior citizens) without bank accounts cash coronavirus relief checks. And since the Texas Supreme Court recently ordered that tenant eviction proceedings could resume, many LVT families are fearful of losing their homes, Rankin said.
“That’s going to be the biggest issue” for these residents moving forward, Rankin said. “We are in an area of 32 apartment complexes. If [occupants] cannot pay rent, there is worry about what is going to happen. We will have to see how this impacts our community after eviction protections are lifted. A lot of that will depend on the apartment owners and how they respond.”
Rankin knows his community well. LVTRise regularly polls residents for their most pressing concerns. Right now, residents are worried about jobs and access to transportation in addition to protections from evictions. Information about the Fort Worth Community Action Partners program (which offers utility gas, electric, and rental assistance) can be found at 817-392-5720. A similar program through the Tarrant County Department of Human Services can be reached at 817-531-5620.
Las Vegas Trail’s two leading job industries, administration and food service, were hit hard by the recent economic downturn, Rankin said. Until those jobs return, Rankin said, Las Vegas Trail will continue to see unprecedented levels of stress and other hardships. The nonprofit director said the shelter-at-home orders plus job losses have increased area reports of domestic and child abuse.
The local community has stepped up to meet the challenges, Rankin said. Residents are checking in on neighbors, especially those who are elderly, and Westside families are sharing what scarce resources they have, he added. Transportation remains an urgent need. Rankin said one in four adults who live in and around Las Vegas Trail does not own a car.
While Rankin and his team of volunteers work to address a growing number of COVID-19-related problems, construction continues on a new community center (a former YMCA on Calmont Avenue) that will provide educational programs, nonprofit offices, and a wide range of social services to Westside residents.
“Phase 1 is going to have offices, classrooms, and a new Fort Worth Library,” Rankin said. “The facility will have private offices for art therapy, counseling, coaching, and case management through our partnerships with several nonprofits.”
Providing after-school programming will allow LVTRise and its partners to address one of the top needs of area residents. The project is ambitious, Rankin said, and LVTRise is continually seeking donations and other forms of contributions to make the community center a reality for Westside residents.
LVTRise is also working with Westside apartment managers to improve the aesthetics of the community through outdoor beautification projects. Many private businesses have stepped in to help, Rankin said.
The COVID-19 crisis forced Rankin and his team of volunteers to shift their focus from health and social services to providing food to unemployed families. Rankin said the broader Fort Worth community should know that basic services like transportation, eviction protections, and job opportunities remain in short supply on the West Side, but Rankin said the community is working with the city, school district, the Fort Worth police department, and nonprofits to address each crisis as it comes.
The community center remains a priority for LVTRise and its community partners.
“The community center will be a great improvement for our area,” Rankin said. “It will provide a safe space and after-school programming — something that is a concern for our neighborhood.” — Edward Brown