Janelle Gonzales, 33, was looking to turn her life around after being released from prison in January.
The new Fort Worth resident began to look for volunteer opportunities, required by her transitional home. That’s when Gonzales found Eastside Ministries.
Eastside Ministries, which runs Eastside Community Assistance, works to provide resources for residents in five ZIP codes in Fort Worth. Residents receive access to food, clothing and social services. It’s newest service area, 76119, has many residents needing medical assistance, and access to housing and transportation.
Gonzales now works for Eastside Ministries as a bilingual intake specialist where she helps others have a better life.
“I used to think that I wasn’t qualified for a position like that and I used to doubt myself,” Gonzales told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “But now, it has given me the self-confidence that I need to keep pushing forward for better things that I never thought I could measure up to.”
This year, a $215,292 grant awarded by the medical institution Texas Health Resources is helping Eastside Ministries reach more residents in 76119 through its Railroad Project and hire staff like Gonzales.
Kimberlin Moore, Texas Health Resources grant program director, said her team loved the idea of the Railroad Project because it guides people to get everything they need.
“It really has to do with overall improvement for the client,” Moore said. “They are trying to focus on increasing self-efficacy.”
Why does 76119 need more access to services?
A person’s health and quality of life can be affected by the conditions, also known as social determinants, of their community and work environment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Texas Health Resource’s 2019 Community Health Needs Assessments report found that many of the 48,000 residents in this southeast Fort Worth ZIP code deal with a high number of new HIV diagnoses and untreated mental health issues, lack of transportation options and affordable housing. The ZIP code, west of Lake Arlington, covers parts of the Glencrest and Stop 6 neighborhoods.
Moore said 76119 residents live in a food desert and don’t have access to healthy food options. Many adults don’t have health insurance or bachelor’s degrees.
Texas Health Resources awarded nearly $1 million in total to organizations in Tarrant and Parker counties to help improve the overall health of communities.
Eastside Ministries has evolved over the years to not solely give away food and clothing. Denise Blakely, the organization’s board president, said it is the first place many clients come for help when living paycheck to paycheck or having an unexpected crisis. The organization also helps those experiencing homelessness.
The organization saw the need for access to social services was high. It saw an influx of clients during the first wave of COVID-19, serving 1,000 people each week.
Blakely came up with the idea for the Railroad Project when working in Waco, but it was not facilitated until March of this year. So far over 200 people have been helped through the Railroad Project. The Railroad Project is named after the Underground Railroad because of its hopes to guide people to a better future.
“The Railroad Project is basically helping people, not fixing people, but helping people dream again,” Blakely said. “Asking them what their dreams are, what does better look like for them. Then, coming alongside them to support their dream with resources.”
Blakely remembers a mother who came with her children to Eastside Ministries for help. The woman was contemplating giving up her children because she wasn’t able to provide for them. Eastside Ministries provided her with clothes for work and food which made the woman decide to keep her children. The mother now has a job and her children are in school.
“Thanks to the grant we got from Texas Health Resources, we can keep up with the needs of the people on a basic level and then walk with them,” Blakely said.
The Railroad Project recognized the transportation barriers many people in 76119 have and started mobile events to provide resources. Before the expansion, many residents had to carpool or take the bus to get to Eastside Ministries’ headquarters on Lancaster Avenue for help.
The project holds an event in various buildings, like community centers, in the neighborhood to give residents more access to services. Residents have access to fitness programs, finance classes, mental health screening and counseling, finance experts and social workers during the events.
“I greet (clients) with a smile. I was always told a smile is contagious, so I always try to smile,” Gonzales said. “I’ve had some of the clients ask me to pray for them.”
Many clients come to the events after hearing about them by word of mouth, Gonzales said. The Railroad Project is able to provide food and clothes immediately. Staff members work to find out the additional needs of clients to provide more help.
“The most important thing for people to know is to not be afraid to say ‘I’m not handling it’ or that ‘I need help,’ ” Blakely said. “I think that is the biggest reason why we are out in the community right now.”
Eastside’s next event for 76119 residents will be a mobile pantry on Sept. 25 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Eugene McCray Community Center, 4932 Wilbarger Street.
Eastside Ministries: (817) 446-3278