Unsung heroes

For every “community leader” quoted in a newspaper or flashing a big smile on television, there are literally hundreds of his or her neighbors laboring in obscurity.

But whether you’ve heard about them or not, the neighbors we’re profiling in this month’s Advocate are quietly going about improving life in our neighborhoods through their volunteer or professional efforts.

They’ve undertaken these tasks not because they’re glamorous, or wildly profitable, or politically correct, or certain to look good on a resume.

These people simple are doing their best to help their neighbors because it’s the right thing to do. And we thought you’d like to meet them.

More Than Just Cops

The Dallas Police Department’s East Dallas Storefront officers do more than protect.

“We try to provide anything and everything residents of the neighborhood need,” says Sgt. Jim Little.

The officers stationed at the Storefront are Sr. Cpls. Rick Janich, L. Albright. Paul Thai, Tri Ngo and crime prevention specialists L. McDonald, E. Conde and R. Fitzgerald.

The officers round up fans in the summer and space heaters in the winter, they act as baseball and basketball coaches, they tutor children and provide interpretation for Hispanic, Cambodian and Vietnamese residents.

All this, in addition to patrolling our neighborhood from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Many officers also work weekends and evenings during their off-time to participate in neighborhood activities.

“Any police officer likes to believe he can make a difference,” Little says.

“Unfortunately, in the crime-fighting realm, you’re not able to make a big, one-on-one difference.”

“When you’re in something like this, you see the results. You’re making a difference, maybe not a big difference, but it is a difference in this immediate area.”

For the Love of History

When Trudy O’Reilly moved into Munger Place 20 years ago, she saw something others didn’t.

“That was basically when it was slum property,” O’Reilly says. “People really couldn’t see the potential – how remarkable the housing is.

“I found out the neighborhood was red-lined, and I couldn’t get a loan. It was architecturally obsolete.”

The experience cultivated O’Reilly’s interest in saving the then-deteriorating neighborhood. She and five neighbors banded together and purchased five homes on Junius, then resold them to people committed to restoration.

Today, the once red-lined neighborhood features some of East Dallas’ premiere renovated historical architecture.

But O’Reilly’s fight to save history didn’t stop at Munger Place. She went on to serve as president of the Historical Preservation League and now chairs the Dallas Landmark Commission, where she has helped save historic neighborhoods and buildings Citywide.

“I’ve always had a love of history and architecture,” O’Reilly says. “It developed out of the love of a house, then a block, then a neighborhood.”

She Can’t Just Say ‘No’

Veletta Forsythe-Lill quit her full-time job to spend time with her son. But it wasn’t long until she was working full-time again – for her neighborhood.

“I don’t have the ability to say no,” Forsythe-Lill says. “I was a child of the ‘60s and heard the call of John F. Kennedy. I’m irritated by injustice and will do what I can to attack it.”

Forsythe-Lill has served as president of the Hollywood Heights/Santa Monica Neighborhood Assocation and is on the boards of the East Dallas Cooperative Parish, Firehouse Ministry and the East Dallas Community Organization.

She also serves on the Dallas Human Services Committee, the Dallas Area Infant Immunization Commission and as a trainer for the Family Place Speakers bureau.

But she says her biggest contribution is with Town Park, a government housing complex that borders her neighborhood. Forsythe-Lill worked with City and housing officials and the police department to establish a storefront at the complex.

Then, she recruited neighbors to tutor Town Park residents for their GED and in English as a Second Language classes. She is currently lobbying for a Head Start program at the complex.

“If I don’t work to change things, it won’t change,” Forsythe-Lill says. “If there’s a road block thrown in my way, and I just walk away, nothing will get done.”

Banking on Our Neighborhood

When neighborhood residents do business with Micheaux Nash at East Park National Bank, they benefit twice – they’re utilizing both a successful neighborhood bank and a community-service stalwart.

Nash opened East Park in 1986 after banking for years Downtown, which gave him many powerful connections he uses to benefit our neighborhood.

“I’m taking people’s deposits,” Nash says. “I hate to just take their deposits without giving them something back.”

Nash serves as secretary of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens board and is a member of the board of directors of the Dallas Museum of Natural History and the Trinity River Authority.

He also is a member of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce and served as president of the Greater East Dallas Chamber of Commerce a few years ago.

Nash also established a breakfast club comprised of neighborhood movers and shakers. Nash brings them together every other month for breakfast so they can get to know each other and what is happening in our neighborhood.

“I felt if a banker is in the area, he should give back,” Nash says. “People ought to give what they can.”

Just Call Her ‘The Tiger’

“I think people know I’m a good advocate,” Nancy Cunningham says. “I don’t lose sight of why I’m there. I’m a tiger. I say the things that everyone else doesn’t want to say.”

Some of Cunningham’s activities include chairing the Education Committee of Stonewall Jackson Elementary’s PTA, and serving on the advisory board of the Woodrow/Long Health Clinic and on the executive board of the Vickery Place Neighborhood Association.

Her efforts have enhanced the education of many neighborhood children.

She also is the founder of SPARKS, Stonewall Parents Are Reading to our Kids. The program began with Cunningham dressing as the Pilgrim Lady and reading Thanksgiving stories to her daughter’s class.

Eight years later, 100 volunteer parents read to all Stonewall students.

“Every little thing I do makes it better,” Cunningham says. “I’m just one little cog in that wheel of volunteers,:

Teaching by Example

Nancy Montgomery is trying to teach her daughters and the young women in her Girls Scout troop.

But her lessons aren’t about math or reading.

“It’s about the importance of giving back to your community, of helping when you can,” Montgomery says. “You can’t always be a taker.”

One of the ways she teaches is by example. Montgomery serves on the East Dallas YMCA board and last year was co-chair of its sustaining campaign, which raised a record amount of donations.

She also is president of the Lakewood Elementary PTA and a volunteer for the school’s Big Art program and the Great Books program.

“My husband and I feel it’s important to be involved in the community and our kids’ lives,” Montgomery says. “I just get in there and work with enthusiasm and energy to make the schools work for my kids and all the kids who will go through them.”

What Can I Do?’

Two years ago, Olga Cardenas decided it was time to help save her neighborhood.

“I opened my eyes,” Cardenas says. “I saw things I had overlooked for the last 16 years. I just thought: What can I do?”

So Cardenas became president of the Mt. Auburn Neighborhood Association. During her tenure, she and other neighborhood residents lobbied to have Mt. Auburn included in the City’s new Neighborhood Renaissance program, which will provide funds to help revitalize Mt. Auburn over the next few years.

Cardenas also assisted in cleaning-up Lindsley Avenue and worked to have 100 gallons of paint donated to Mt. Auburn residents who can’t afford to paint their homes.

“I can’t get all the credit,” Cardenas says. “There have been other residents who have helped out.”

“It has made a difference. There’s an energy now that people really want to do something for the neighborhood.”

“In my opinion, you don’t want the neighborhood to go down. It’s got to be done, and someone has to do it. It’s part of my responsibility to do something good. I think everyone else believes that.”

An Obligation to Our Kids

You may not realize it when meeting Bob Booker, but he is one of the biggest advocates for Asian children, many of whom live in our neighborhood.

Booker began volunteering at the East Dallas Police Storefront in 1986, where he established a tutoring program for Asian children. Within a year, the program outgrew the Storefront.

Booker worked with Asian leaders to revitalize the Vietnamese Mutual Assistance Association, a nonprofit organization that provides free services to Asian residents.

In its heyday, the association organized Boy and Girl Scout troops, and provided tutoring, work programs, food, clothing and furniture. About 40 children a day came to the center, located in an apartment building on San Jacinto.

At one time, Booker volunteered 40 hours a week to get the programs going, but today he has cut back to about six hours a week.

“These were the children of American veterans, and their fathers couldn’t or wouldn’t help them,” Booker says. “Even though I don’t have any children, I still feel the obligation.”

The Write Stuff

Many people have written off the printed word.

But neighborhood resident Eloise Sherman is doing everything she can to breathe life back into it.

Sherman was a loyal volunteer at the Lakewood Library for years and was a founding member of the Lakewood Library Friends. As the first president of the organization, she headed fund-raising efforts for a neighborhood oral history project. The organization also published the book “Reminisces of an Old East Dallas Neighborhood.”

When Sherman finished these neighborhood projects, she went Citywide with her efforts. She founded the Dallas chapter of Literacy Volunteers of America, an organization that provides tutoring for illiterate adults. The program exists in Dallas’ public libraries, YMCA branches and churches. She’s also chairman of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce.

“I think printed words are some of the most wonderful things we have,” Sherman says. “I believe it is very, very sad that there are so many people who can’t read. I personally am grateful that I had the courage to get this started.”

Sherman served on the state and national boards for Literacy Volunteers, and she chairs the City’s library board, which oversees the operation of Dallas’ public libraries.

“I believe we all have a debt to pay to help your fellow man,” Sherman says. “When you teach someone to read, you pay back some of your debt, and you have a soul-satisfying experience.”

The Job Nobody Wanted

Rick Franco volunteered to chair the Health and Safety Committee of Woodrow Wilson High School’s School Centered Education Council because nobody else would.

He made the job nobody else wanted work for the school and our neighborhood.

Under his guidance, the committee opened the Woodrow/Long Adolescent Health Clinic to serve neighborhood children and teens. The clinic is located in a portable building in Woodrow’s parking lot, and its staff provides affordable vaccinations, physicals, counseling and treatment for minor illnesses.

If more care is needed, the staff makes referrals to doctors at Parkland Hospital.

“A lot of absences at Woodrow are because of health reasons,” says Franco, who graduated from Woodrow in 1976. “This is aimed at low-income families who can’t provide health care.”

“I like being involved in the SCE. They’re a group of parents, teachers and administrators who think of nothing but the welfare of the kids.”

“I still call Woodrow my school. Anything promoting the school, I’m for it.”

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