Diversity Forges Future For Paul Quinn College

October 27, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Andy Garcia

Sitting over a laptop computer, Celia Soto clicks through course assignments and extracurricular activities. With less than 30 minutes before her next class, she organizes her academic life on the Paul Quinn College campus.

Less than a year ago, Soto was a recent immigrant from Mexico, working as a waitress and a sales clerk at a bazaar in Dallas to save money for a college education. Despite graduating with honors from Duncanville High School, she thought it would take “two or three years” before she could pay for school.

Today, Soto is a presidential scholar at PQC, with her four years of tuition waived. For Soto, it is a path to new possibilities. For the historically black PQC, located in Oak Cliff it’s part of an ongoing effort to evolve.

“We don’t see it as diversity, we see it as expanding our mission to places that others just might not have thought to look,” Paul Quinn’s President Michal Sorrell said.

The Center for Historically Black Colleges and Universities Media Advocacy, Inc awarded Paul Quinn HBCU of the year in March. Criteria includes ‘community outreach initiatives’ and ‘student engagement by way of enrollment’.

This semester, seven out of 193 students enrolled at PQC are identified as nonblack. Five are listed as Hispanic and two are listed as Asian on PQC’s registration demographics.

“The first day when I moved in everybody was like ‘welcome, how do you feel’,” said Soto, a 19-year-old legal studies and criminal justice major. “I feel so good.“

But PQC has faced problems in recent years. Academic and financial issues have plagued the college, resulting in the loss of its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2009.

Since then, the college has worked to improve its reputation. For fiscal 2009 and 2010, the college accumulated approximately $2 million in budget surpluses.

By 2010, the college received accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. TRACS is a national accrediting body for Christian institutions. PQC is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The college also works to help the surrounding Oak Cliff community by providing organic food through the operation of an on-campus farm.

In August, the Wall Street Journal examined historically black colleges working to expand their enrollment demographic. PQC was one of the school’s recognized for its efforts.

In June, Soto and other incoming students attended a summer bridge program at PQC to accumulate six academic credits and learn more about the college. She remembers that she was met with warmth from her peers.

“I [felt] like I’m home because they were really nice people,” said Soto.

Along with an interest in expanding their knowledge of other cultures, many of the first year students have a common bond through their relationships with PQC recruiter Jessika Lara.

Lara, whose family is originally from Mexico, was one of PQC’s first presidential scholars and graduated in Dec. 2010. She says she was so interested in PQC’s efforts to grow that she wanted to continue being a part of it.

Lara has helped recruit prospective students by bringing them to campus and getting to know who they are on a personal level.

Freshman business administration student Giovanni Macias considers one of the leading factors for why he chose PQC was his ability to talk to Lara whenever he needed to. He remembers text messaging her on a weekend asking her about the school.

“She gave me all this information about life here and she started convincing me, on a Saturday morning, too,” Macias said.

The time Lara spent with her recruits has developed in a bond among them all. Students often come to her office throughout the day to talk with her about their lives.

“We really are a close knit group,” Lara said. “They don’t leave my office.”

Throughout the summer bridge program, Soto formed lasting friendships. One girl she met, T’Edra Jackson, is now her roommate.

Jackson, an 19-year-old business administration student who hails from Baton Rouge had not interacted with Hispanic students before the bridge program. However, Soto’s race did not prevent the girls from becoming friends.

“She would come to my dorm and study, and I would come to her dorm and study and we just started bonding,” Jackson said.

In her time at the college, Soto has both offered and benefited from peer tutoring, and she was also encouraged by a member of the faculty to establish a Latino Association on campus. Soto says she has about 11 members comprising both Hispanic and black students. The group’s first campus event was in mid-September and celebrated Latino culture. About 40 students attended.

Zae Whitaker, an undeclared 17-year-old and one of the black students in the Latino Association, had been concerned about not finding enough diversity when he was considering PQC.

“I wanted it to be a school where there was diversity, so I could embrace more cultures because I already know what it’s like to be black,” Whitaker said.

Apart from his participation in the Latino Association, Whitaker is also working with a classmate to teach Latin dancing to members of both the school and the local community.

Community Members Fight Against Graffiti Staining Dallas Neighborhoods

December 1, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

By Lauren Michaels

On a late morning in November, David Spence is working at a restaurant construction site in the Bishop Arts District. Since 1995, he has been renovating many of the commercial and residential properties in Oak Cliff. Before he can begin any part of the restoration though, he faces another challenge—graffiti.

While some people associate graffiti as a form of artistic expression and even art, others like Spence, believe it is nothing but a nuisance.

“Art is something you do when you have permission to paint on someone’s building,” Spence said.

For Spence and other Dallas residents, graffiti is an issue around the city. Both city officials and the Dallas Police Department say that many of Oak Cliff’s property walls have become a popular canvas for graffiti. Trashcans, stop signs, commercial and private properties are constantly hit with an explosion of colors and lettering designs.

A stop sign in North Oak Cliff has been tagged with graffiti. (PHOTO BY LAUREN MICHAELS / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Police officials say that taggers, who paint their names or initials for artistic exposure, are responsible for most of the graffiti seen in Dallas. They have identified well-over 200 taggers around the city. With the growth of graffiti in movies and video games, the culture of tagging is becoming more embedded within society.

“We have had an explosion, especially in Oak Cliff, of these young guys, 10 to 15 years of age, doing graffiti,” said Detective Bradley Dirks of the DPD Gang Unit.

Last year, Dallas’ Code Compliance sent out Graffiti Abatement Crews to work on 1,623 locations around Dallas. Of these locations, 580 were in North Oak Cliff.

While Code Compliance addresses private property, other city departments are working to remove graffiti on public property, including city parks, buildings, streets, bridges and traffic signals. Last year, Code Compliance responded to 5,619 calls for graffiti on public and private property. For every three or four calls it received, the city sent a crew out to clean-up graffiti.

While some government resources are limited to prevention and clean-up programs, the city of Dallas has taken a zero tolerance policy on graffiti.

Delia Jasso, Dallas District 1 Councilmember, held the first annual graffiti wipeout conference in Dallas last spring. Since her election in June 2009, Jasso has been working to education parents and their children about graffiti. This fall, Jasso and her mascot, Gina the Giraffe, have been hosting assemblies for elementary students around North Oak Cliff.

James Childers, Dallas’ Assistant Director for Nuisance Abatement, and other Dallas officials feel Jasso is heading in the right direction.

“I think its great what she has been doing,” Childers said. “She understands that you have to work through the schools.”

In the early 80s, graffiti served as a source of gang intelligence to help investigators identify their location. Today, most people who spray paint see themselves as artists and are looking to further their career by exposing their artwork around the city. Since Dirks’ spends most of his time in Oak Cliff, he has seen an influx of young Hispanic youth becoming involved with graffiti. However, Dirks said that graffiti is all over the city.

When Dirks worked on his first case in 1997, graffiti was seen as a criminal mischief. Graffiti is still a crime that is punishable by either a misdemeanor or felony. Both Dirks and DPD Lieutenant Edwin Ruiz-Diaz are confident in the department’s efforts to continue to implement graffiti laws.

“We do what we can, we don’t spend as much money as other cities but were not necessarily doing worse than they are,” Lt. Ruiz-Diaz said. “They cover it up quickly but the taggers are still out there.”

Police officials have issued curfew ordinances for the younger taggers, prohibited ordinances and actively filed cases. While catching taggers in the act is unlikely, Dirks said some taggers paint in broad daylight.

“It’s the luck of the draw,” Dirks said. “I’ve only caught two people in ten years and I do this eight hours a day.”

Spence leaves his properties closed every day to eliminate graffiti taggers from marking on his property.

“They are looking for a billboard and if I deprive them of that billboard then they will go elsewhere, ” Spence said.

Childers is also working to help remove graffiti in an effort to help keep neighborhoods clean.

“Even though the city will take care of the graffiti on your property, its still the property owners responsibility,” said Childers.

The city of Dallas provides free graffiti abatement for property owners with a consent form. When the case is reported through 3-1-1, the owner can either purchase paint for the city or have supplies dropped-off for them to abate as needed.

When Spence first started working in Oak Cliff with the Jefferson Areas Association, many property owners did not clean their sidewalks. With paint thinner, steel wool and chemical solutions, Spence has removed many of the graffiti letterings near his property. Now, Spence has noticed many shopkeepers losing their sense of personal responsibility. If a property is not maintained, he often sees more graffiti surrounding that area.

Dallas’ first Graffiti Abatement Coordinator, Lisa Fullerton, began conducting small graffiti clean-ups in August of 2006. With the support of Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, Fullerton and almost 700 volunteers participated in the city’s first graffiti wipeout. While Fullerton spent most of her days responding to resident calls and developing the city’s abatement website, she was also researching the psychology behind graffiti artists.

“Your fence, house, whatever, are a billboard and artists want to throw up tags because it is an artist’s signation,” Fullerton said. “The longer the tag is up there, the more prominent they are in the tagging community…more people are going to see it and it’s going to be difficult to remove.”

For Jasso, prevention and education are keys to stopping graffiti.

“If we can affect [K-6th grade] by letting them know in a fun and educational way, then we have at least begun to change the pattern,” Jasso said.

Jasso’s anti-graffiti program has recently been nominated to receive a National League of Cities Award. Results for Jasso and her six nominees will be released in December.

Dallas Working to Combat Growing Animal Overpopulation

November 4, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

By Lauren Michaels

Jonnie England was driving home one recent afternoon when she saw a German Shepherd chasing after a car down Saner Street in Oak Cliff. She watched the dog desperately follow the car for two miles, until the driver accelerated onto the freeway. Exhausted, the dog collapsed in a nearby yard. England said it was clear that the passengers in the car were the owners of the dog who had just been dropped off at Keist Park. For England, this incident didn’t come as a surprise.

As a long-time animal advocate and shelter volunteer, England estimates that she rescues about 35 lost, hurt or loose animals each year in her Oak Cliff neighborhood.

Dallas Animal Services, the City of Dallas and advocacy groups are working together to reduce the overpopulation of stray animals. City officials say that some lower income areas, especially in South Dallas and parts of Oak Cliff, have been harder to manage. Residents in these areas have a tendency to not spay and neuter their animals because of expenses and limited education about the available resources.

Last year, DAS impounded 30,855 dogs and cats, of which 2,316 dogs were adopted, 1,484 were given to local rescue groups and 1,625 redeemed by their owners. The remaining 16,393 dogs underwent euthanasia at the shelter for various types of medical, age or space reasons, said city officials.

Joey Zapata, Dallas’ director of Code Compliance, believes education, legislation and enforcement are the key solutions for decreasing the number of stray animals in the city.

“The goal isn’t about the animals, it’s with the people,” Zapata said.

A stray, pregnant dog roams around a park in Oak Cliff. (PHOTO COURTESY JONNIE ENGLAND)

According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, only ten percent of animals brought into shelters have been spayed or neutered.

An unaltered animal reproduces more frequently, increasing the number of animals that are euthanized each year due to limited shelter space and low adoption rates. Loose animals have a tendency to carry more diseases, such as rabies, which can be hazardous to the health of residents. Some also have aggressive behaviors, which can create a dangerous environment for residents who spend their time outside.

As the former executive director of the advocacy group and no-kill shelter in Carrollton, Operation Kindness, England keeps the necessary equipment, such as leashes, food, gloves, water containers and crates, which allow her to rescue an animal at any moment.

On a windy Sunday in October, she spots a flattened cardboard box in the middle of the road and immediately brakes to check if the brown material may be an animal. England is always aware of her surroundings and, while she is driving, catches herself looking for strays in nearby bushes, as the stoplight turns red.

“Sometimes I envy the people who can drive down the street and never see a stray animal,” England said.

With an excess amount of animals and holding spaces, the city has been working to keep up with the demand and operations of the newly built DAS facility.

Three years ago, Dallas invested in a new state-of-the-art, eco-friendly shelter that doubled the capacity of their previous shelters. The air in the shelter re-circulates every 8 to 12 minutes and more than 90 percent of natural daylight serves as an energy source throughout the shelter.

Currently, the shelter holds up to 1,000 kennels and receives about 300 to 500 animals per week. While the Dallas County district attorney’s office continues investigating recent allegations of animal cruelty at DAS, the city has hired Dallas police Lieutenant Scott Walton to be the shelter’s interim division manger. Walton said he feels compelled to maintain a high standard of care at the shelter and has made it his mission to give every animal a second chance.

“I think where Dallas should be encouraged is if you really look at the number of rescue groups and the number of advocacy groups that really are working to get that message out,” Walton said.

Delia Jasso, District 1 Councilmember for the City of Dallas, which covers the Northern Oak Cliff neighborhood, has great compassion for Lt. Walton.

“He is very open and very aggressively wants to change the perception of the animal shelter,” Jasso said.

In December, Jasso is planning to launch a “Dallas Loves Animals” campaign with local advocacy groups in order to educate the public about ongoing animal issues. Jasso would also like to offer discounted adoption fees to encourage the community to come out to the shelter and adopt an animal.

A mother sits with her puppies in a back road in Oak Cliff. (PHOTO COURTESY JONNIE ENGLAND)

While at times the challenges seem daunting, Zapata said that there are resources available. He sees a need to create more public awareness of the resources like spay and neuter programs.

On Oct. 25, 2008, Dallas added a new amendment to the city’s Chapter 7 Animal Ordinance, which said that all dogs and cats must either be spayed or neutered, with limited exceptions. If an animal does not get altered, the owner will be required to pay a yearly license fee and take an education class on responsible pet ownership. While many owners do alter their pets, the majority of stray animals in Oak Cliff have not been spayed or neutered, officials said.

Both Zapata and Dallas assistant city manager Forest Turner understand the importance of enforcing the ordinance. They are currently working with animal advocacy groups, such as Operation Kindness and Paws in the City, to inform people about pet ownership responsibilities.

“People need to consider how to care, feed, pay for vet bills and have their children understand,” Turner said.

Rebecca Poling, founder of Companions for Life and an animal rights advocate, works with the Metroplex Animal Coalition to help provide free spay and neuters for citizens. If an owner resides within a certain zip code, and earns less than $35,000 per year, their pet will qualify for free spay or neutering services. Dallas also provides free spay and neuter options for citizens on public assistance.

The SPCA of Texas also offers low-cost spay and neuter options through subsidies at the Martin Clinic at Village Fair in Oak Cliff. Last year, more than 17,000 animals received spay and neuter treatments from the clinic’s board certified veterinarians.

Poling believes that Oak Cliff residents may be working longer hours and do not have the funding, time or transportation to take advantage of these programs. Therefore, many stray dogs and cats roaming the streets are unneutered and producing litters that contribute to the overpopulation.

“There is nobody out there that isn’t contributing.” Poling said. “Everybody has a role and there is so much to be done.”

South Oak Cliff Residents Wary of Proposed Alcohol Sales

October 22, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By E’lyn Taylor

On a recent rainy Tuesday evening, church members at Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ in South Oak Cliff worshiped together for their weekly bible study. Members who live around here say this is a safe haven to congregate and meditate. But some are worried that the neighborhood may not be as safe if proposals to sell alcohol in the area are approved in the upcoming election.

Dallas voters will go to the polls Nov. 2 to decide on two ballot measures to allow alcohol sales throughout the city. The South Oak Cliff area has been dry since 1956. One measure would permit grocery and convenience stores throughout the city to sell beer and wine. The other proposal will allow restaurants possessing liquor licenses to sell drinks without issuing memberships. Bars and liquor stores would still be banned from currently dry areas.

The proposals will affect parts of East Dallas, North Dallas, West Dallas and land south of the Trinity River that includes all of Oak Cliff.

After their bible study, church members circled around to the back of the church to discuss the upcoming election.

Church member Kathryne Jeffries believes there are already too many wet Dallas suburbs and communities and that a vote for South Oak Cliff becoming wet will increase DWI convictions.

“They need to keep it as is,” Jeffries said. “They already have too many cities that are already wet.”

Vendors, restaurateurs, grocery-store owners and wholesale-club companies are petitioning for a vote to end club card requirements in restaurants. Some residents and officials believe that allowing beer and alcohol sales will bring more tax dollars to the city, but others think that the vote might bring additional crime.

The Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ has been located in the heart of South Oak Cliff for more than 37 years. Pastor T.T. Terry believes that neighbors around here will vote against the proposals.

“I don’t believe it will change very much,” said Dr. Terry. “I believe they will vote for it to remain dry.”

Supporters of the measures say that sales can bring more money into the community and Dallas will see increased revenues from sales taxes to pay for improvements around the city, including Oak Cliff. But Holy Trinity Associate Minister Otis Womack says the taxes from alcohol sales will not benefit Oak Cliff, instead they will benefit the vendors.

“The distributors and the people involved in selling and distributing alcohol, that’s who will make the money,” Womack said.

Womack disagrees with those who say that alcohol sales will help build jobs and opportunities.

“The people that own those stores don’t look like us, they don’t talk like us and they won’t hire us. So that’s not helping us or our community,” he said.

Two blocks away from the church, at a Fiesta grocery store, South Oak Cliff resident Shirlyn Benton said that the businesses in her community should focus on doing positive things around the neighborhood rather than selling alcohol.

“I think they need more programs for youth and they need a boys and girls club,” Benton said.

The City of Dallas prohibits alcohol sales within 300 feet of schools, churches and public hospitals. Not far from Holy Trinity, Walgreens Manager Chad Badgley points to another church that is so close that his store would not be able to sell alcohol whether the ballot measures pass or not.

That’s fine with Badgley. He is against South Oak Cliff becoming wet because he constantly runs out beggars and panhandlers who stand and beg in front of his store. That would only get worse if he sold beer and wine.

“It would just give them another item to get hooked on and beg for,” Badgley said.

Beyond The Bubble: Cultural Center Provides Artistic Haven for Oak Cliff Residents

October 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Beyond the Bubble

By Lauren Michaels

As a child, Delia Jasso, her three sisters and their father would spend most of their afternoons inside the art museum at Dallas’ Fair Park. Some of Jasso’s best childhood memories were walking through the galleries filled with vibrant, acrylic paintings and sculptural displays.

Today, as District 1 Councilmember for the City of Dallas, Jasso is making this same experience possible for the residents of Oak Cliff, through an art and culture program at the new Oak Cliff Community Center (OCCC). Since OCCC’s opening on August 12, more than 500 residents have come to the center to show their support.

“I understand the need for arts and culture and the service it can do for the public,” Jasso said.

Every day the center attracts those who walk, bike, drive and even skateboard along the busy corridor of Jefferson Boulevard. Beneath the bright orange awning, visitors can see the inside of the dance studio, art gallery and multipurpose room. Every month, the gallery will host native Oak Cliff artists to show its support for the city’s vibrant art scene.

The first exhibit features local painters, glass blowers, wood carvers and even photographers. Cynthia Maute’s oil on canvas with cotton strings and Sal Barron’s black and white photographs are among the many artworks. Eventually, the center would like to be able to provide exposure for both regional and international artists as well.

Art works hangs on the walls of the Oak Cliff Community Center. (PHOTO BY LAUREN MICHAELS / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Prior to the opening, Gary Sanchez, Cultural Programs Coordinator for the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, said he personally welcomed all of the merchants on the street. Sanchez hopes to form close relationships with neighboring residents who may be interested in participating with the center.

After school, groups of smiling students walk pass the center to view the artwork inside the gallery. The employees at a nearby neighborhood business, Loan Express, have more of a positive energy from the children who pass their store each day after school.

The art gallery displays works by Oak Cliff residents. (PHOTO BY LAUREN MICHAELS / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

“The center finds them something to do, focus on and allows them to become interested in the stuff that they should be doing. ” said Loan Express employee Anthony Gordon.

Mary Deering, an Oak Cliff resident of twenty years, hopes that the center will be able to provide classes that can capture each student’s interest. When asked about the art gallery at the center, Deering said she was very impressed with the artwork.

In addition to the artist programs, the dance studio will accommodate concerts, music lessons and dance programs, including those with the Alegre Ballet Folklórico, a Mexican folk dancing company. Since most of the Oak Cliff schools are currently unable to provide classes in art education, the center also hopes to offer after school programs in partnership with Big Thought and DISD.

With recent city budget cuts, the funding for culture centers, theaters, community programs and staff has limited the growth for centers like the OCCC. On Sept. 22, the city passed a $2.7 billion budget for the restoration of services to parks, streets, libraries, recreation centers and cultural arts programs, like the OCCC. The center will now be able to hire another staff manager and expand their weekly hours to increase attendance. Jasso said she is continuing to work on gathering more private donations to fund the indoor and outdoor seating that will be used in a café for families and guests.

The wide panel windows of the community center look out to Jefferson Boulevard. (PHOTO BY LAUREN MICHAELS / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Jasso says the OCCC currently provides dance and music on a smaller scale than the larger art centers in Dallas. Since the support of a 2006 bond program, it has taken the city years to pursue the necessary steps to purchase, construct, design and find a space for the OCCC. Jasso and her supporters are continuing with their efforts to promote the center’s development and keep the residents excited about future programs, she said.

Today, both Sanchez and Jasso remain committed to their mission in working to create an artistic environment that inspires all the patrons, not only in Oak Cliff, but also in Dallas.

“All people are proud of their heritage and that needs to be shown. Dallas needs to grow its roots and find identity as a city,” Sanchez said.

To learn more about the OCCC visit their website. For more information or volunteer opportunities, contact Gary Sanchez, Programs Coordinator at 214.670.3777.

Burst The Bubble Blog: A Different Side of Dallas Life in Oak Cliff

September 29, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Post By Elizabeth Lowe

It’s a month into the school year – have you felt the force of the “SMU Bubble” yet?
Even Coach June Jones has felt the pull, saying almost everything a person needs to live can be found in University Park.

But how about doing a little living?
That’s where Oak Cliff comes in my friends.

The historic neighborhood is sometimes subject to a shady stereotype for those Mustangs not in the know. However, ask any Dallasite or savvy professor and they’ll be quick to tell you otherwise. From artsy street markets and shops to Texas-style entertainment and dining, Oak Cliff has got it going on.

Most recently, the Oak Cliff community began a new initiative to revive their beloved city blocks – and it shows. Just take a look at the Observer’s “Best Of” list; 23 of this year’s winners can be found in Oak Cliff.

Next time you’re looking for a weekend activity or a taste of something new, I challenge you to step outside The Bubble with me and into Oak Cliff for a different take on Dallas life.

Here’s what’s on the Oak Cliff Radar this week:

“Return to Giant” at the Texas Theatre, Thursday Sept. 30 at 7 p.m.
This historic Dallas landmark has been under construction making way for a new bar and concession stand. Although it’s still a work in progress, the Texas Theatre is opening its doors for a repeat screening of the documentary “Return to Giant.”
The documentary illuminates the town of Marfa, TX where Giant was filmed. Haven’t heard of Giant? Let’s just say it’s a Texas classic.
James Dean shines in his final role as a rancher in the small Texas town alongside legend Elizabeth Taylor. The film is credited as the basis for the TV series “Dallas.”
It’s sure to be a night of true Texan culture.

Live Blues at Jack’s Backyard, Saturday Oct. 2 at 9 p.m.
Since opening in 2008, Jack’s Backyard has been a go-to bar for Oak Cliff locals.
By day, Jack’s serves American and Tex-Mex fare like quesadillas, burgers, grilled cheese, and tortilla soup. By night, Jack’s is a laid-back bar and music venue.
This Saturday, check out live blues as the band Bona Fide Blues performs. This will be a bluesy experience in the neighborhood of blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan.

16th Annual Stevie Ray Vaughan Remembrance Ride and Concert, Sunday Oct. 3
For blues fans or a Harley man, it’s an epic annual event. This is a daylong bike fest and blues concert benefiting the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Starting at 9 a.m., attendees are invited to breakfast at the World’s Largest Hooters in Dallas’ West End. From there, the motorcycle parade will commence at 11:15 a.m. Next up, it’s an all-day blues concert series at Cowboys Arlington until 6 p.m.
Sounds like a long day? Just remember it’s for the kids – and Stevie.

Photo Gallery: Blues, Bandits and BBQ

September 14, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Elizabeth Lowe

Oak Cliff residents and patrons hit the streets Sunday to celebrate all things local: Texas barbecue, Dallas musicians and local brews. It was a celebration of bluesy spirits like Oak Cliff’s own Stevie Ray Vaughan and the soul of a very much alive, vibrant community.

Blues, Bandits and BBQ took over the historic blocks of Clinton Avenue and Davis Street as a demonstration of the Go Oak Cliff initiative. It was a day of authentic community love and laid-back fun unlike any soiree you’d find in downtown Dallas. To many, Oak Cliff embodies a spirit the greater Dallas area lacks. Its creative soul and local-minded initiatives are a breath of fresh air in an often stuffy Dallas social scene.

This is one of many events throughout the year sponsored by Go Oak Cliff, a non-profit advocacy group for the community. Its main goal this weekend was to show the potential of the historic neighborhood blocks. For the festival, potted trees and plants were brought in to line the streets as well as plenty of patio-style seating. Attendees had the chance to mingle in the what-could-be streets of the new Oak Cliff.

The Dallas Morning News reported festival attendance in the 600′s to the thousands over the course of the afternoon. To the residents and patrons of Oak Cliff, this is a sign of good things to come.

Nonprofit Internships: Helping The Community

May 1, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Jefferson Johnson

As summer closes in it’s time for students to start thinking about what internships are available. Most students will go for internships that align with their area of study, are paid or come with nice perks. However, some students who want to make a difference in a community or try something different consider working for a nonprofit organization.

Although they are usually unpaid, nonprofit internships can teach students more than just volunteer work. One nonprofit strives to help students get more out of interning beyond their field of study.

Project Transformation is a nonprofit Christian organization that provides leadership development internships to college students. PT offers community oriented programs for low-income children and youth across North Texas. With nine summer sites throughout Dallas for various college interns, including SMU, PT has locations in Elm Wood, Pleasant Mound and Oak Cliff. Over 500 students have served as interns in the summer and after-school programs and 66 percent come from Texas.

Mary Ferguson, Oak Cliff site coordinator of PT and former intern, said during the summer internship, reading is the focus of the community program.

“We focus on their [children and youth] reading level improving and their confidence in reading,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson also believes success is gauged with a reading assessment at the beginning of the summer program and again at the end of the program.

“Over the years, PT has seen improvement in grades during the school year and reading levels in the summer,” Ferguson said.

PT has been serving various communities for 12 years. Two SMU directors from Perkins School of Theology are on the board of directors for the nonprofit, organizing many community outreach events and providing a “safe and caring” children and youth after-school and summer program. The children and youth receive over 3,000 hours of one-on-one reading time each year. And the program cultivates bonds between staff and youth and among interns.

The bond instructors make with the children has inspired some to come back, like intern Sarai Gonzalez who currently attends the PCI Health Training Center in Dallas.

“You get to see how it has grown, made a difference and how it reaches out to different communities,” said Gonzales, a returning intern.

Gonzalez, a child of the first year of the PT program, now regularly interns for PT and is majoring in nursing.

“They really encourage us to go to college,” Gonzales said.

As a United Methodist affiliated organization, PT also offers opportunities for people who are thinking about going into ministry or service work, and interns have the option of participating in these components. About 43 former interns have enrolled in seminary and eight currently serve as staff in United Methodist Churches. For the summer, interns receive a $2,500 living stipend distributed twice a month and an education voucher of $1,250.

“Students are not going to get rich working for PT,” said returning intern and Paul Quinn College senior Antwan Habersham. “When students intern for PT it is for the experience and college assistance,” Habersham said.

Habersham has also noticed that by helping the children and youth with their study habits, his have improved too.

“We [interns] have made bonds,” said Sanford-Brown College intern Tasha Wright. “We all treat each other like family.”

The interns and staff all agree that working for a nonprofit is a great way to create an intimate bond with other student interns and build lasting bonds with the children and youth.

“I feel that [PT] has helped me a lot,” Wright said.

Wright said the experience is building her patience for the medical field and teaching her how to be a better listener.

“If you enjoy spending time with kids, you would love the program,” Wright said. “You’ll feel better as an overall person.”

According to Habersham, homework and literacy is the most effective way to help children in the community. Habersham, who has a similar background to the children, said PT is about helping each other out.

“It’s a great opportunity to work with children and feel the love they have to offer,” Ferguson said. “We have over a 100 interns and it’s a great community to serve with.”

“You’ll love the program,” Wright said.

Click here for more information on interning for Project Transformation.

The Daily Update: Monday, April 19

April 19, 2010 by · Comments Off 

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Big D Blog: Visit the last 1st Thursday as “Bishop Arts Gives Back”

November 30, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Diana Nolacea

1st Thursday is happening again in December. Visit Bishop Arts District this Thursday evening as “Bishop Arts Gives Back.” A portion of proceeds of sales this night will be donated to the Turner House renovation efforts.

Turner House is located in the historic Winnetka Heights neighborhood in Oak Cliff, it the home of the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts. “This beautiful landmark provides an elegant and charming location for many types of events. The Society, founded in 1926, seeks to preserve this architectural jewel and enhance the quality of life in North Oak Cliff by providing a unique space for community and private events.”

Also, open house at Hula Hotties Cafe. They will have a tasting of holiday desserts 6p-9p at 244 W. Davis.

Don’t miss out the last edition 1st Thursdays of 2009!

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