The 11.5 square mile region known as West Dallas, formerly known as the “Devil’s Front Door,” was once an industrial center plagued with crime, poverty, and racial tension. In the 1950s, following the construction of 3,500 low income housing units, the area became the largest public housing development of its time.
Today, West Dallas is the site of an in-depth Baylor University case study examining the role the faith-based community plays in providing social services to the community. West Dallas is considered to be one of the most economically disadvantaged communities in America. Roughly 65% of students entering high school here drop out before their senior year. Only about 2% of the adult population has obtained a college education. More alarming still, 86% of students in the area are economically disadvantaged, and roughly 50% live below the poverty line. Compared to Dallas proper, where the per capita income rests just above $24,000 per year, West Dallas falls drastically behind, with a per capita income of only $9,813. In short, this 24,000-strong community faces economic hurdles every single day that are extraordinary in the wealthiest nation on Earth.
Beginning in 1980, residents began to fight for change within their community, demolishing the housing projects and replacing them with affordable housing and senior units. Today, there is reason for hope again in West Dallas as dropout rates are on the decline, and residents are working with their local religious leaders, churches, and non-profits to bring a brighter future and economic transformation to the area.
A collaboration of 13 ministry partners works as a support network for collective impact initiatives, partnering with local business leaders, nonprofits, community leaders, and their ministry partners to serve the people of their community.
Churches and ministries have stepped in to improve the economic outlook and futures of the residents of West Dallas. One faith-based organization in the area teams with ministry partners who share a goal of, seeing “a spiritual, economic, social, and physical transformation of West Dallas neighborhoods,” and to encourage religious leaders and community members to work together to create their own brighter future. A collaboration of 13 ministry partners works as a support network for collective impact initiatives, partnering with local business leaders, nonprofits, community leaders, and their ministry partners to serve the people of their community.
At one West Dallas school, the ministry partners coordinated efforts to implement new programs and services to give students a better shot at success. This included providing volunteer mentors and tutors, class room assistance for teachers, and library support to improve academic performance and experience for all students. The school was matched with a local suburban church with a large congregation, which provides volunteers to engage students to help improve their reading proficiency and confidence. As a result, students’ reading scores began to skyrocket, with the proportion of fifth grade students reading at or beyond their grade level increasing from 17% to 40% over a two year period.
Other organizations focus on the health of community residents. Some Christian non-profits run faith-based community clinics, providing health care services to uninsured patients. One clinic alone sees on average 72 patients a week, providing flu shots, diabetic care, and healthful meals to those in need. The clinic operates healthy living classes for diabetics, encouraging patients to successfully manage their blood sugar levels. In addition, it operates four specialty clinics, for adults, eye care, women’s health issues, and for dental care. Without these clinics, patients would be left to seek care in the already over-burdened Medicaid system. By providing immediate health care and helping residents live healthier lifestyles, these clinics save money for both the community and our nation’s health care system by preventing illness and managing disease early on.