Families living in poverty face invisible barriers to receiving life-saving counseling – such as language, geography, transportation, finances, and social stigma. That’s why The Center created the Partnerships for Accessible Counseling and Training program (PACT). PACT makes counseling and psychological assessments accessible to all. During COVID, the work with our PACT partners is even more crucial. Hear from PACT partner Wesley-Rankin Community Centers leadership Shellie Ross, Executive Director and Natalie Breen, Director of Children’s & Youth Education, CALP, as they share about our work together.
How did Wesley-Rankin begin? Wesley-Rankin Community Center (WRCC) has served West Dallas for over 80 years. Ray Hamilton, a member of the Bonnie and Clyde gang, was to be executed in 1935. Hattie Rankin Moore crossed the River to stay and pray with Ray’s mother the night of his execution. This began Hattie Rankin Moore’s service through Eagle Ford Mission where she held education classes in the backyard. Hattie was one of the earliest advocates for West Dallas residents. Eagle Ford Mission was renamed Wesley-Rankin Community Center and we continue today with Hattie’s legacy of advocacy.
Wesley-Rankin Community Center's mission: Through caring relationships, Wesley-Rankin Community Center partners with our West Dallas neighbors providing education and resources to drive community transformation. Together, we bridge gaps in the inequities of education, the arts and mental health. We believe everyone deserves a fair chance to reach his/her potential.
What is WRCC's secret to connecting families and community? Active listening is key, in addition to maintaining a posture for learning. Our rhythm is to listen well, adapt programs and repeat the process. In our classrooms, children are teachers and parents are educators and leaders. WRCC has held true to its values for decades and despite staff changes or a changing neighborhood, we remain present, flexible, and engaged.
How have your community partnerships evolved over the years? WRCC has always been an agency that adapts to neighborhood need. When there wasn’t a GED program in West Dallas, WRCC was that program. When there wasn’t a Montessori alternative for West Dallas residents, we created a school until there was an option. Our partners help us bridge gaps and when the gaps change, so do the partners. We always strive to ensure our community partners complement our programs, not duplicate. Our partnership with The Center began in 2016, and like any good relationship, grew in depth and strength over time. Wesley-Rankin was initially a site for 1 counselor, yet now we have the need and ability to serve more families. This past semester, we had 3-4 counselors on site. We are so proud of our partnership with The Center and it has become so much more relational in the last couple of years.
How has counseling impacted your clients and their family’s lives? Counseling has provided our families with tools to navigate today’s world, family dynamics and identity. Counselors have built incredibly strong relationships with family systems and have taught West Dallas residents how to advocate for themselves. We’ve had students processing heavy topics like death, sexuality, friendships, the closing of our feeder-pattern middle school, Thomas Edison, evictions and more. Those same students today are dynamic leaders, empowered students, and happy, caring children.
When our partnership began, we struggled to enroll 3-5 students due to the stigma. After a few families participated, word spread. Once you have a good thing going, it quickly grows and we recently counted 36 West Dallas students served by The Center in the spring.
What have your learned about your staff and clients during COVID and the racial upheaval? Dealing with the injustice and harm to our Black brothers and sisters during a pandemic has been incredibly stressful for our staff and clients. We have an empathetic and diverse staff that feels when others hurt and in efforts to practice self-care, we’ve learned we need to take mandatory staff PTO days. So once a month, we don’t work on a Friday. The other days, we are attentive to each other’s needs and the greater West Dallas community. We’ve seen community members advocate for Black Lives Matter and be mindful of those at risk for COVID-19 and we’ve had to process with others why the advocacy and thoughtfulness are important. For now, time seems better spent listening in personal conversations than program lectures.
Have attitudes toward counseling changed during the past few months? Families are embracing counseling - families in our programs and new families are seeking help. The needs for additional support, socialization, healthy adult relationships, and self-regulation tools have certainly increased. Our families are comfortable with The Center staff and Wesley-Rankin staff to ask for support. The nature of counseling provides time for self-reflection, routine, and consistency, which is hugely important right now.
When it comes to mental health, what do anticipate in the post-COVID months ahead? Wesley-Rankin has embraced that the COVID-19 pandemic is a traumatic experience that must be treated as just that, a trauma. It is requiring a lot of us emotionally now and will continue to require a lot from us in the future as we address the lasting impacts. We believe that in the days/months/years ahead, how we talk about COVID-19 is really important and needs to be addressed. The impacts of quarantine, a virus that disproportionately affects communities of color, high unemployment rates and lack of food access will certainly have long-term effects on the mental health of West Dallas neighbors. Because of our partnership with The Center and our trauma-informed approach to education, Wesley-Rankin will be here to support families through it. We are optimistic that perhaps this increased time with family and loved ones will help children cultivate positive, lasting relationship skills and an appreciation for connection greater than before.
Since March, WRCC distributed 12,030 meals and 1,333 bags of groceries to families in need. From March- May, volunteers tutored 43 students in reading and 24 students in math (and distributed 613 books to those without internet), and in June-July, 145 students received daily one-on-one math tutoring, reading small groups and art/science workshops, for a total of 1,307 tutoring sessions.