“There’s no going back. My eyes have been opened and I cannot ignore what I have learned about the people and neighborhood of Stop 6.”
Justin’s Place serves the Stop 6 area of Fort Worth. This is an area of town that not many people in my personal demographic venture into. In fact, if you mistakenly found yourself there, you’d probably drive as fast as you could to get out! More often, we hear about this poverty-stricken area and their plight through the news. How they are in a food desert, how the kids are on government subsidized lunches, how the teachers need help filling backpacks with food so the kids won’t go hungry over the weekend and how the gang violence hits innocent families in the neighborhood. My point is: it’s a place the rest of Fort Worth would sometimes like to forget and a place where many of the residents often feel forgotten.
Justin’s Place sees this poverty-stricken area as its mission field. Just like any other missionary group, Justin’s Place started by going into the neighborhood and building relationships — first with International House of Praise so we could have a home base to work from, and then with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and Tarrant County College who were already active in the community. From there, we started connecting with the people! Individual relationships — that’s where I entered the picture.
I first went to Mom’s Night Out because I was asked to decorate the tables. In preparation I had cut about a million gold circles to make table runners, painted mason jars, made flower arrangements, and ached and pained over the stupidest details. I arrived, set up and waited. Then the ladies from the neighborhood started showing up with their kids. I’m not going to lie, for the first 30 minutes I wanted to run out the door. It didn’t seem like they liked us (the volunteers from Justin’s Place) — their faces were not smiley or welcoming. Even the way they stood seemed like they were ready for a fight. They sat and we served dinner. Then after eating, we talked about goal setting. I was surprised how such a simple concept in my mind was mind-blowing in theirs. That night we made journals as our craft and each of the ladies wrote down their goals. They left with hope. It was noticeable in their countenance.
At the next month’s dinner, the ladies seemed much the same as they arrived and ate. We started the night’s conversation by referencing back to the goals and they shared what progress they had made. The conversation then moved to be more about life in general and suddenly it felt like everything shifted. They had hard stories and we had hard stories. We shared those with one another, prayed for one another and by the end of the night their faces had turned into friendly ones. Now each month, I look forward to Mom’s Night Out so that I can see my friends. They pray for my family, I pray for theirs. We gather together, eat together and just have fun!
Fast forward a few months and I’m at the airport flying back from vacation when I get a group text that there is a 20-year-old mom of three girls who desperately needs someone to walk alongside her. I agree to be “her person” … after all, I have a daughter just a year older. Alongside another volunteer, I started mentoring Tracy (I’ve changed her name for privacy) who lives in Stop 6 with her daughters who are 3, 2 and 1.
It was easy to understand how, lacking even basic parenting and life skills, Tracy felt completely overwhelmed. Starting with parenting skills, we helped Tracy see how a schedule is crucial for children. Then we went about setting up that schedule, teaching it to the kids and then to Tracy. The plan may sound extremely basic (wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, go to school, come home, eat dinner, take a bath, read a story and go to bed), but before we stepped in, Tracy often ended the day frustrated, exhausted and frazzled, and would shut the girls in a dark room, letting them cry themselves to sleep. That’s all she remembered her own mom doing, so it was all she knew to do. As the weeks progressed, we showed her how a weekly schedule of washing clothes, grocery shopping and meal planning — none of which was modeled by her own parents — could simplify her life.
It’s not easy for her, but Tracy has a support system in Justin’s Place. We are there for her — to celebrate when she has a good day and to cry when it’s a bad day.
I wish that was the end of the story, but it’s not.
As I have worked closely with Justin’s Place to build into the lives of the moms and the kids in Stop 6, it has become more and more apparent that what we are currently doing isn’t enough. I can’t “fix” Tracy’s life. She still lives in the projects in Stop 6. She’s still haunted with how to provide for her girls without turning back to prostitution. She’s still surrounded by people who do drugs to escape the brutal life they are living. She’s still pulled down by her circumstances, her past and how hard the future looks.
I know eventually Justin’s Place will have a supportive living environment to help moms like Tracy, but the fact is Tracy needs it now. I badly want Tracy’s family be one of the families that succeeds. I don’t want her girls to grow up like she did. I don’t want them to sell themselves beginning at the age of 14, never finish high school and end up in the same trap as their mom and their grandmother before them. Melody, the oldest, is now 4 and she already knows way too much about the world she lives in. She deserves a real chance at the best life has to offer. I’m doing my best to show her it’s out there, the American Dream, and that she doesn’t have to repeat the cycle. I just hope we aren’t too late for Tracy. It’s truly something that keeps me up at night.
There’s no going back. My eyes have been opened and I cannot ignore what I have learned about the people and neighborhood of Stop 6. I feel really blessed to have found a place to build friendships with women in my hometown that I would not have otherwise had the chance to meet. I’m thankful Justin’s Place has given me a place to serve and I am thrilled about playing a tiny part in trying to end the cycle of generational poverty in Fort Worth.