Aligning missions to better serve a refugee community
Feb 6, 2017
Vickery Meadow is a slice of Northeast Dallas known as the “Little United Nations” because it is home to some 25,000 refugees who speak more than 50 languages.
The annual median income is about $22,000, with many residents working several jobs to eke out a living. Large, extended families are crammed into a dense swath of about 150 old apartment complexes, and residents walk along busy and dangerous roads in what a 2012 Dallas Observer article called “an overlooked, anthill community.”
Overlooked no more. A partnership of three faith-based organizations – Texas Health Resources (THR), Northwest Bible Church and Healing Hands Ministries – led last February to the opening of a 15,000 square foot community center, followed five months later by a low-cost health clinic. The Northwest Community Center provides for the first time a wide range of much-needed social, employment and health care services for Vickery Meadow’s vulnerable residents.
Northwest Bible Church runs the community center on property owned by THR. The center’s medical clinic opened in July and is run by Healing Hands Ministries, a nonprofit community-based health care group with strong ties to THR.
The church sought for years to amplify its presence within the community. “There’s no public transportation and asking people to walk three miles to come to our church just wasn’t feasible,” says Brian Newby, the church’s lead outreach minister. He says the church’s vision was to “create a holistic center for community empowerment,” with offerings of English classes, job skills training, a safe spot for children and teens to gather and affordable quality health care services.
A realtor connected church leaders to THR officials, who quickly embraced the vision and agreed to house the center. “It sparked a wonderful partnership which we are immensely thankful for,” Newby says. “We’ve received amazing support from THR.”
The church’s dedication to the community made it easy to reach an agreement, says Virginia Rose, THR’s vice president for community engagement. “It seemed divinely inspired,” she recalls.
When the partners discussed adding a health clinic, THR insisted that is be operated by its longstanding community partner Healing Hands Ministries, which also was looking for a site in Vickery Meadow. A $737,000 grant from the North Texas Specialty Physicians Charitable Fund helped the clinic to open its doors in July.
“We are three faith-based groups working together to make a collective impact,” says Janna Gardner, president and CEO of Healing Hands Ministries. “This is about building a community and being the voice for people who don’t have a voice … and can’t access health care appropriately. They need an advocate.”
The community center features a Wi-Fi-equipped lobby; a children’s area with toys and games and arts-and-crafts supplies; a teen “hang-out” room equipped with ping-pong tables, games and a homework center; and a small youth library. Four training rooms are used to teach English-language, job-training and job-skills courses to help refugees find employment.
The immigrant population “needs to connect with the broader Dallas community otherwise they will always be hamstrung,” Newby says. “We say, ‘we are here not simply to give you the skills to survive. We want to help you thrive.’”
And he tells the community that “whether it’s helping a child with homework, training and mentoring a parent to land a job, providing a family with crucial health or dental care, or having a Friday night movie to keep teens off the street, we’ll be there.” The community center has the capacity to serve up to 21,000 residents a year, Newby says.
The health clinic occupies 2,700 square feet in the center and provides a patient-centered medical home for residents. Services include a laboratory, chronic disease management, prescription assistance, well visits for children and their families, women’s health, immunizations and preventive care.
THS provides financial and in-kind support, and a phone-translation service that helps clinicians communicate with patients. “It helps us break through the language barriers and make sure we are providing safe quality care,” Gardner says.
The clinic treated about 1,200 patients through the end of last year, and estimates it will serve about 5,000 this year.
“We are casting seeds to grow a healthier community … and break the cycle of poverty,” Gardner says.
THS’ Rose believes the collaborative is “changing the fabric of this community. We are making lives better.”
THS’ support of Helping Hands Ministries’ outreach to Vickery Meadow and other disadvantaged communities is part of what the health system describes as its “journey toward becoming a ‘population health company,’” observed the AHA, in its recent report, “The Leadership Role of Nonprofit Health Systems in Improving Community Health."
“Keeping people out of the hospital and a holistic view of health that attends to people’s physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs are at the core of Texas Health’s philosophy and approach to improving community health,” the report said.
The health system provides nearly $2 million in grants annually to fund community health-improvement initiatives. “It’s about developing long-term relationships with community organizations, like Healing Hands Ministries, and a pipeline of resources for these community groups,” says Felicia Williams, THS’ manager of community benefit programs.