In years past the Crystal Charity Ball bus tour was a chance to visit the little ones who would benefit from the annual Dallas County children’s charities fundraiser. But this year on Thursday, February 16 it was more a case of eyeballing dirt that would one day be the setting for future programs for the children.
The five-hour tour of seven 2023 beneficiaries sponsored by Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s Layne Pitzer and Joan Eleazer would allow only 20 minutes at each of the stops.
In charge of the day’s tour was Melissa Macatee, who along with Ball Chair Angie Kadesky, Underwriting Chair Mary Martha Pickens and Charity Selection Chair Ola Fojtasek, sat at the front of the bus as New Members Liaisons Tracy Kozmetsky and Beth Thoele revealed details to the vets over the PA system about the new members (Cindy Booker, Carol Dalton, Carolyn Goelzer, Stephanie Lauck, Margaret Elizabeth McKissack, Melissa Sherrill Martin, Felicia Powell and Katherine Wyker).
Departing the Turtle Creek Village parking lot promptly at 9 a.m., the bus of CCB committee members headed to the Park South Family YMCA on Romine Avenue in southeast Dallas.
Greeted by YMCA Development Sr. VP Kathryn Allen, the group was led by Park South YMCA Membership Director James Fleming and Park South YMCA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Executive Director Rodrigua Ross through the main facility that over the years had provided health and wellness, sports, activities and camps for its community including an indoor swimming pool, a community room, an indoor basketball court, a lunchroom and an area jammed with exercise equipment.
Rodrigua explained the campus including the main building was in severe need of rebuilding. Knowing that the CCB-ers were interested in the children and how they would benefit from the $799,218 grant, she took her time taking the committee down the hallway along the rooms where pre-schoolers were occupied. In one where youngsters gathered around tables playing games, one young miss left her chair and went out into the hallway to thank each of the guests with hugs. The tiny gal was soon scooped up for even more hugs.
As the CCB-ers headed back to the bus, one of them said, “This is going to be the best stop in the day.”
Despite the fact that the other stops wouldn’t have children to hug, the rest of the day was still revealing and inspiring.
Traveling down Malcolm X Boulevard to Martin Luther King Boulevard past the boarded-up buildings and abandoned lots, the sight of Fair Park’s Ferris wheel came into view as the bus passed James Madison High School.
The next stop was for Fair Park First where the bus drove by the former planetarium with graffiti on the walls and the Science Place 1 to the curb in front of the Fair Park Visitor Center, where Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen and Philanthropy Campaign Manager/Rise360 CEO Heather Stevens emerged to join the bus and guide them around the grounds.
Driving by the Fair Park Band Shell (“It will be totally redone”) to the backside of the park, Brian explained that when the park was expanded in 1968, “it was a dark part of Dallas history” because it took over more than 300 homes from African Americans at a cheap price. The expansion provided for acres of flat parking lots.
Phase 1 of the project to put the “park” back in Fair Park will turn the 18 acres of the parking lot 10 into Community Park.
The $1M grant provided by 2023 CCB is designated to create an all-abilities toddler playground in the park ensuring “that toddlers have their own dedicated playground which is enclosed for safety and designed for all abilities. The project will include specialized playground equipment, fencing, gates, design, lighting, landscaping, tables, chairs and a shade structure. This will be the only area for toddler play in the surrounding 13 distinct neighborhoods benefiting approximately 80,000 children per year.”
As the bus pulled up to the lot with a lone tree, Heather told how she encouraged people to have their pictures taken at the site now and to return when the park was completed for an “after” photo. Despite the chilly wind, she got the committee members out of the bus for a photo in front of the tree and the Ferris wheel and downtown Dallas in the background.
After returning Brian and Heather to the Center, the bus headed to the corner of Westmoreland and Redmond Drive in southwest Dallas overlooking I-30. Where once stood a 75-year-old complex that was considered the “Beverly Hills” of psychiatry and tuberculosis, two mammoth land movers were cleaning up two torn down buildings. Metrocare Services CEO Dr. John Burruss explained that plans for the Hillside Campus call for a five-story building that will house all of the field day staff, administration, education, research, etc. It will encompass 88,000 square feet with an additional expansion capacity of 24,000 square feet plus a parking garage and serenity garden. Almost half of the 1,000 Metrocare staffers would work here.
It will also include the Altshuler Center for Education and Research — “This is a pivotal piece of what we do to train over 200 field day mental health workers per year including pharmacists, pharmacy students, psychiatry residents, social worker students and trainees.”
Burrus then pointed to where workers were carefully removing the red brick from a nearby building that will be used for a conference center that “harkens back to the origins of this building.”
One end of the Altshuler Center will be the adult mental health and the other end will be the one that CCB is providing $912,881 to create “the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Clinic” providing intellectual and developmental disability services and integrated, coordinated mental health treatment helping approximately 5,000 children annually.”
To get a better understanding of the campus plan, Metrocare Chief Development and Diversity Officer Tameka Cass distributed handouts with a QR code providing 360-degree views of the property facilities.
The bus headed north to Buckner Children and Family Services on Lombardy. For some it is a return to the site near Bachman Lake that CCB funded in 2018 for its new facility. Where once was a grassy, tree-covered lot now stands a 21,795-square-foot, two story building.
As the committee toured the facilities, there was a class of adults learning English in one classroom. According to Buckner Church Engagement Senior Director Ken Murphy, the CCB grant of $995,663 will provide funding over two years “for program and capital to strengthen and expand its children/adolescent programming at three Family Hope Centers’ after-school and summer programs. It strengthens families by ensuring both parent and child can share a common language, continue learning at home and throughout other day-to-day activities to grow together. Additionally, these funds will launch a college and career readiness program at the three Family Hope Centers. Ultimately, this programming prepares approximately 450 children for their bright future.”
After taking a group picture and having a boxed lunch from Art2Catering, After-School All-Stars North Texas Executive Director Justin Hensley boarded the bus and described how the CCB $596,565 grant would “launch and sustain both a comprehensive after-school program and a summer program at Alex W. Spence Middle School for three years. Having identified middle school children as one of the largest groups left unsupervised between the hours of 3:00–6:00 p.m., when youth violence, drug use and other dangerous behavior is likely to occur, After-School All-Stars will provide free, high-quality after school programming to 125 students and a full day 6-week summer program for 75 students, serving approximately 200 children annually.”
Back on the road again, the group headed to the Stemmons Freeway frontage road just south of Regal Row taking a turn right on Viceroy Drive, where The Salvation Army of North Texas Major Dawn McFarland and Community Relations Senior Director Christina Cavalier were helping to place a sign on the fence surrounding a 20-acre lot — the site of The Salvation Army’s new Dallas Social Service Center campus. The sign read “Thank you, Crystal Charity Ball!!”
Dawn got on board the bus showing a site plan for the property and thanking the committee for its $1,349,804 grant that will establish an on-site, 4,000-square-foot Child Care Facility for client residents on the new campus that will serve approximately 360 children annually. In addition to four classrooms — one for infants, one for toddlers, one for pre-school aged children and one for school-aged children in after-school programs — the funds will also “include an outdoor playground adjacent to the facility.”
The final stop of the tour was just across I-35 on Mockingbird, where Family Gateway’s Chief Development Officer Ruthie Umberger boarded the bus and recalled how Gateway was the result of the late Mayor Annette Strauss seeing a woman pushing a stroller late at night and asked her where she was going. The woman said she had no place and was going to sleep in her car. That situation resulted in Strauss’ establishing Family Gateway in 1986.
Today Gateway has 100 rooms available for those homeless families with 34-35 on a wait list.
Last year Gateway identified 7,000 children who were homeless.
Ruthie added that Gateway was partnering with Vogel Alcove and other area non-profit agencies. During the pandemic they opened a pilot program when The Salvation Army of North Texas had 12 rooms available. The program was so successful that Gateway and Vogel Alcove will continue to support The Salvation Army’s new campus which will have 40 rooms available for families.
For the present, the 2023 CCB grant of $1,032,000 will “support a Mobile Crisis Team to initially serve downtown Dallas with a future expansion into South Dallas. Coupled with the implementation of a research-based Assessment and Diversion Practice, Family Gateway will offer a wide variety of solutions to assist families with alternatives to shelter whenever possible. This pilot will bring a proven program into the field and will increase the number of children served annually by approximately 1,200.”
Then the bus headed back to Turtle Creek Village’s parking lot for the committee of 100 to undertake ten months of raising $6,686,131 for its seven Dallas County children’s charities.
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