By Jaclyn Bonner
The traditional American narrative boasts that anyone can make it if he or she works hard. But the social systems and economic stratum one is born into can often exclude a person from having an opportunity to attain the “American dream.”
West Dallas denizens face a challenging situation. Generational poverty is commonplace in the 11 square miles of Zip code 75212. “More than one of every three families lives below the federal poverty level,” reports Brother Bill’s Helping Hand, a Texas Baptist Hunger Offering ministry that has worked in the community for 75 years.
Unemployment in West Dallas is at 10.5 percent, double the Texas unemployment rate, and 45 percent of West Dallas households earn less than $25,000 annually. More than half of West Dallas adults did not complete high school. The average pre-K child has a vocabulary of 1,500 to 2,000 words, compared to the 5,000 to 7,000-word vocabulary of children living in more affluent Dallas neighborhoods.
Moreover, a health crisis, job loss, and/or family tragedy can drastically change a household’s economic status, creating food insecurity and leading directly to poverty.
In 2015, Elaine Rodriguez* took a medical leave of absence from her work. Dealing with health complications and less income, Elaine and her husband, Jacob*, members of Bill Harrod Memorial Baptist Church, had difficulty putting food on the table.
Like the Rodriguez* family, “a large majority of BBHH neighbors are strong in their faith and committed members of their community,” notes the ministry, but that does not mean they are immune to challenges.
Elaine and Jacob received food assistance from BBHH’s grocery store. The store receives funds from the Hunger Offering and is one of many programs offered to the community. Many individuals come to the store first and then get involved in other programs like Bible studies, English language, exercise, and computer classes. Various children’s programs and short courses are offered seasonally or annually. Health services are also provided through their community clinic.
Elaine desired to work but needed to further develop her skills and confidence before returning to the workplace. She enrolled in BBHH’s six-week PathWays Women’s Job Training Program where she developed job search, application, and interview skills, as well as computer and financial skills. PathWays is a holistic program that focuses on physical, mental, and spiritual health.
The following fall, she devoted herself to learning about children’s asthma through an eight-week Children’s Health Promotora Program. This empowered her to become a catalyst of change in West Dallas.
She started making home visits with a Children’s Health staff member and began educating families in her community about asthma. Elaine volunteered and now uses her skills in her new career as a Nutrition Educator Assistant.
Elaine is able to communicate in Spanish, a crucial means of crossing language barriers and effectively educating the community about preparing nutritious, economically-friendly food for their families. She is giving back at BBHH by teaching free courses to women and mothers.
Your investment in women like Elaine has a multiplying effect. Seven of her students graduated this spring from BBHH’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.
“I love being able to go to work every day to help, encourage, and educate others the way BBHH did for me,” said Elaine.
BBHH volunteer and Food Ministry Director Courtney Shwadlenak testifes of the impact Texas Baptists are making in West Dallas through BBHH, “Without help from our partners, like the Hunger Offering, we could not do the work of Christ's kingdom here in West Dallas.”
You can partner with more than 130 ministries to impact struggling communities in Texas and across the world by becoming an annual, quarterly, or monthly Hunger Offering giver here.
*names changed for privacy