Hands that help: The service clubs that charm our neighborhood

Lakewood has always felt like a small town tucked into a big city. Even with its pockets of crime, its tightknit sense of community keeps many families roosting here. The fact that you always see someone you know at the grocery store or local watering hole is due, at least in part, to our neighborhood’s service clubs. They may require an application to join, but these groups regularly find ways to make our neighborhood better, whether through providing scholarships for Woodrow seniors, beautifying our common space or promoting neighborhood businesses. Some clubs are part of a national campaign while others stem from homegrown efforts, but all chip in to make our neighborhood more desirable and connected. Here, you can read a bit more about who they are, what they do and how to get involved.

Dallas County Master Gardeners (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Growing gardens

The Dallas County Master Gardeners beautify all of the city, but they are especially active in East Dallas. That includes assisting 10 public schools in maintaining their gardens.

Back in 1995, the service club turned a weed-riddled lot into a thriving green space for Dallas ISD’s Multiple Careers Magnet Center (MCMC) a part time school in East Dallas for students with special needs. The curriculum is modeled to look like a job, and the garden plays a role in the students’ development, teaching them real world skills. Students grow vegetables and herbs in the garden, which are then harvested and used in the culinary arts program or donated to families.

Cynthia Jones is the Master Gardener who tends Lakewood Elementary’s school garden, where her daughter Nicole is a teacher. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Cynthia Jones is the Master Gardener who tends Lakewood Elementary’s school garden, where her daughter Nicole is a teacher. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

“The group was so welcoming and enjoyable, after the first visit I was hooked,” says Marilyn Waisenan, who has been volunteering with the Master Gardeners at MCMC for 12 years. The students come from different backgrounds, but Waisenan says she sees the connection and bond grow quickly through their work together in the garden. “It has been extremely rewarding.”

Master Gardeners also help maintain the garden at Lakewood Elementary. Cynthia Jones, an East Dallas neighbor who is president of the Dallas County Master Gardener Association, says they focus on plants that are good for pollinators and butterflies. “The kids are just fascinated,” she says.

All members must give back through service or education. The group provides horticultural information for Dallas County residents, about everything from keeping your lawn green and managing pests, to raising vegetables in the backyard. They host demonstration classes and have developed teaching gardens all over Dallas. They even have a helpdesk neighbors can call weekends from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to ask gardening questions (214.904.3053).

Year established: 1986
Number of members: Over 400
Main purpose: To educate the public and provide research-based horticultural information and projects throughout the county.
Annual events: There is a portable help desk at the Texas State Fair for the entire length of the fair. They also host garden-related children’s activities at
the Home and Garden Show in the fall and spring.
How to join: Attend Master Gardener School, which begins in January. Applications may be downloaded by visiting the website.
Biggest non-cash need: Much of the funding comes from the Dallas County Master Gardener Association (DCMGA), the nonprofit funding arm of the organization. Attending garden tours and plant sales also helps contribute.
More info: dallascountymastergardeners.org

Student supporters

The East Dallas Exchange Club’s focus is on helping kids, and specifically kids in Dallas ISD schools in the neighborhood. In addition to collecting coats, books and eyeglasses, the group gives away over $80,000 a year in scholarship funds, providing three, four-year $5,000 scholarships and one four-year $10,000 scholarship to Woodrow Wilson High School seniors.

Last Spring, Abraham Saldana was awarded that $10,000, and last month he started as a freshman at Iowa State. He is studying agricultural engineering with plans of running his own business and helping others become more environmentally conscious.

Saldana thought he’d go to El Centro for a couple years and then transfer to A&M, but earning the scholarship opened doors for him.

“I feel like winning the East Dallas Exchange Club scholarship gave me confidence, and I was rewarded for aiming high,” Saldana says. “It gave me momentum in other areas of my life, applying resources to my education and see where I take it and where it takes me.”

In addition to his agricultural engineering curriculum, Negrete is taking leadership classes, so that he can come back and inspire his community.

“I am here on a mission,” he says. “The scholarship really touched me. And not just the scholarship, but the message behind it. If they are willing to contribute in such a way, I want to be selfless and give back to see someone else succeed in that way. I want to see my whole community make that leap.”

Year established: 1948
Number of members: 50 members
Main purpose: To serve kids through a wide variety of programs, including Coats for Kids, Books for Kids and programs that increase literacy; help kids go to college and prevent child abuse.
Annual events: The Exchange Club scholarship fundraiser at Pour House on Oct. 14, and includes a band, pizza and a mug for $30.
How to join: Membership is limited to 50 members and is invitation only.
Biggest non-cash need: Donations of books, coats and attendance at fundraising events for scholarships.
More info: exchangeclubofeastdallas.org

70 years strong

The East Dallas Rotary Club celebrates seven decades in the neighborhood this year, and continues to increase its impact on the local community. The organization was founded for humanitarian purposes, with a global mission to help eradicate polio, which it has more or less accomplished.

The East Dallas Rotary club has members of all ages from diverse backgrounds, says Jason Kendall, a past president and East Dallas neighbor. “It’s a neat way to do good and not feel overwhelmed,” he says. “But it is not about us feeling good, but about making a difference.”

The Rotary Club helps gather supplies and donate to Dan D. Rogers Elementary, and also works with Family Gateway, a homeless shelter for families with educational and social services. Last year, the East Dallas Rotary Club donated $2,500 for school uniforms, allowing the nonprofit to outfit 100 children, says Kathy Kidwell of Family Gateway.

“They are absolutely fantastic,” Kidwell says.

Rotary also partners with For the Love of the Lake, where they help with shore-side cleanups.

“It’s not just a bunch of old white-haired men talking about the good old days and making business contacts. It couldn’t be further from that,” Kendall says. “Some of those folks have a lot more in common with you than you think.”

Year established: 1947
Number of members: 20
Main purpose: There are over 35,000 Rotary Clubs that share a goal to promote peace, fight disease, provide clean water, serve mothers and children, support education and grow local economies.
Annual events: In September, Pints for Polio at Deep Ellum Brewing Company. In October, they host a 5k to end Alzheimer’s, and in November, the Rotary organizes Men Who Cook in Deep Ellum.
How to join: Attend a meeting and express interest in the club to receive an invitation.
Biggest non-cash need: The public can donate through the website, come to a meeting, assist in future service projects or attend a social event.
More info: eastdallasrotary.org

The Fraternal Order of Eagles clubhouse has an old-school vibe: unpretentious and welcoming. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
The Fraternal Order of Eagles clubhouse has an old-school vibe: unpretentious and welcoming. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Everyone’s pool

Dallas Fraternal Order of Eagles offers more than just one of Dallas’ best pools. The clubhouse that’s popular with young families, old-timers and everything in between on summer weekends is actually part of a national network of Aeries.

The first Fraternal Order of Eagles was founded at the turn of the 20th cen-
tury when some theater owners met to determine how to end an actors’ strike. Out of that meeting came an organization that now donates $10 million dollars to charity nationwide and claims seven presidents as past members.

The East Dallas location, nestled behind Forest Hills, is Aerie 3108, and is nearly all volunteer run. The cheap beers and burgers sold every weekend at the pool benefit numerous charities, and members donate their own time to maintain the grounds.

Last year, F.O.E. 3108 donated over $80,000 to various charities, some of which are local, like the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, which helps victims of child abuse, and Maggie’s House, which supports those dealing with alcohol addiction.

The facility also goes above and beyond via their taxes. Although the nonprofit isn’t required to pay property taxes, the Eagles decided to pay anyway in order to help the children at Dallas ISD and have done so since 1973.

Year established: 1952
Number of members: 243 members and 250 auxiliary (women’s) members
Main purpose: To promote peace, prosperity, gladness and hope.
Annual events: There are chili-cook-off fundraisers and a Luau that benefits the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center.
How to join: Two sponsors must recommend a person to complete an application. Hanging out at the Aerie is recommended in order to get to know sponsors, and volunteering always helps.
Biggest non-cash need: The F.O.E. is always looking for more members, especially people who are able to lead service projects.
More info: foe.com

‘We build’

The Lakewood Kiwanis will celebrate their 75th anniversary in East Dallas next year, and still offer an active way for neighbors to serve their community. Kiwanis International was founded in 1915 in Michigan, and its name comes from an Algonquin word for “We build.”

In East Dallas, the Kiwanis sponsor Woodrow Wilson High School’s Key Club, a service organization, and host a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the school’s marching band. They also provide a $600 scholarship for one Sophomore of the Year.

Local Kiwanis members also support Mi Escuelita, an English immersion preschool housed in St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Ross. Mi Escuelita serves over 600 children, most of whom could not afford pre-school otherwise. Kiwanis donate supplies and books and throw a Christmas party. But their most important contribution to the school is a reading partnership.

Every Friday, Kiwanis members read to the children after lunch. “What they do is vital to the growth and development of our children,” says Executive Director Gayle Nave. “[The students] don’t have many chances to develop a relationship with anyone outside the family, and this socially prepares our children to meet different kinds of people.”

While the children are wary at first, Nave says they quickly grow attached to their Kiwanis mentors. “By the end of the year, I tell volunteers you will need 15 minutes for hugs at the beginning, and 15 minutes at the end,” she says.

Year established: 1943
Number of members: 15
Main purpose: To serve the children of the world.
Annual events: Kiwanis host a winter pancake breakfast to benefit the Woodrow Wilson High School band, as well as a Christmas party for the Boys & Girls Club of East Dallas and Mi Escuelita, a pre-school in East Dallas. They also host fundraising bingo at the Lakewood Country Club four times a year.
How to join: Meetings are open to the public every first and third Thursday at the Lakewood Country Club, and dues are $115 per quarter. Prospective members should fill out an online application.
Biggest non-cash need: In addition to new members, the club is always looking for attendees at their events.
More info: kiwanis2.wordpress.com/lakewood-kiwanis-club/

The Lakewood Service League’s auction raises money for area nonprofits. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
The Lakewood Service League’s auction raises money for area nonprofits. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

For love of Lakewood

The Lakewood Service League (LSL) is about consistent service to the neighborhood. Rather than one flagship event, LSL provides numerous opportunities for women to serve on a Saturday morning or after work. Members speak of a quiet impact, which may not be flashy, but that makes a difference.

LSL was founded when a group of neighborhood women got together to beautify Lakewood Park on Williamson Road, where they transformed what was once a muddy creek bed into a beautiful park hidden along the lake.

Ashley Brown, donor development officer at Juliette Fowler Communities, says LSL is generous with both time and money, offering a range of care for the elderly as well as a home for women who age out of foster care. In 2015, LSL donated $17,000 to Fowler, which assisted in life enrichment activities such as music therapy. But they also volunteer on site.

“It is fun because some of the volunteers have friends and family who live here,” she adds. “It is great to have that intergenerational involvement.”

This year, LSL will help sponsor a Christmas party and provide stockings for residents at Juliette Fowler. There are also members who mentor the residents of Ebby House, which is for women who age out of foster care.

Year established: 1982
Number of members: 100
Main purpose: To cultivate interest for volunteer work among its members related to the economic, educational, cultural and civic conditions of the area.
Annual events: The League participates in Light Up Lakewood in December, hosts Party in the Park at Lakewood Park in the spring, and supports the Lakewood Fourth of July parade.
How to join: New members are accepted during the summer, from June 1-Aug. 1. Applicants must fill out an application, and once they are accepted must make five out of nine meetings throughout the year, and complete 36 hours of community service per year.
Biggest non-cash need: LSL is always looking for service-minded women to join. They also collect nonperishable goods for a food drive in October to benefit the Wilkinson Center, which helps families in need of groceries or other emergency assistance.
More info: lakewoodserviceleague.org

Better business

“If you want to change the world, start with the person right next to you.” This is Chuck Kobdish’s take on the impact of the Greater East Dallas Chamber of Commerce (GEDCC). Kobdish is a chiropractor and boardmember of GEDCC, who speaks highly about the organization’s impact. Kobdish’s boutique chiropractor’s office isn’t on medical provider lists because they don’t take insurance, so he has depended on word-of-mouth recommendations and networking that GEDCC provides.

“Through the chamber and connections, I have built my practice, and become what I have always meant to be: a neighborhood chiropractor taking care of his neighbors,” Kobdish says.

Jesse Simmons, also a GEDCC board member who runs his own air conditioning, heating and appliance repair company, walked out of his first chamber meeting with three service calls, and there were just 12 people at the meeting. “Because of the chamber, the people I met were embedded in East Dallas, and when you do good work, word spreads fast,” Simmons says.

When he first started his business, he served the entire metroplex. “I’d go anywhere for a dollar,” he says. But the GEDCC allowed him to reduce his service area by connecting him with customers closer to home. “For the first four years I was involved, my business doubled every year. Everything I need is right here, and I keep it local. I haven’t been to Plano in four years.”

Year established: 1948
Number of members: 167 member businesses
Main purpose: To promote the cultural, educational and industrial interests of East Dallas.
Annual events: The chamber presents an annual Economic Summit — essentially a “state of the union” with respect to the neighborhood’s economy.
How to join: One-year memberships range from $75-$2,500.
Biggest non-cash need: For businesses to join its membership and attend regular networking events.
More info: eastdallaschamber.com

The Alexander Mansion is home to the Dallas Woman’s Forum. (Photo by Can Türkyilmaz)
The Alexander Mansion is home to the Dallas Woman’s Forum. (Photo by Can Türkyilmaz)

Women saving history

The women of Dallas have never been satisfied staying at home. A group of ladies who wanted to better themselves and their community through education and activism formed the Dallas Woman’s Forum in 1906, making it the oldest club for women in Texas. In its early days, it blazed the trail for the city’s first pure food law. The club also created the Texas Anthropological Society and established a museum at Southern Methodist University.

In 1930, the women took over the Alexander Mansion on Ross Avenue. Built in 1904 by wealthy businessman Charles H. Alexander, the house remains a shining example of English neoclassical design. Constant maintenance has become one of the Woman’s Forums’ biggest challenges, since the expansive estate requires numerous costly repairs, including a new roof. The club occasionally rents out the mansion for weddings or private parties to help raise maintenance funds.

These days, the club is just as focused on education as when it first formed. It regularly hosts lectures about local history, and finicially supports music education at Birdie Alexander Elementary School and Booker T. Washington High School. The club also serves Alley House, an East Dallas nonprofit for teenage mothers.

“By providing school supplies, books, diapers or simply a place to hold a recital or an Easter egg hunt, the Dallas Woman’s Forum leaves its mark on the lives of those in our community,” says member and East Dallas neighbor Sharon Cooper.

Year established: 1906
Number of members: 100
Main purpose: To empower women and children through education and advocacy, and also to maintain the Alexander Mansion on Ross.
Annual events: Holiday Home Tour and European Tea Room, every December.
How to join: Apply online by clicking the “Join” link.
Biggest non-cash need: Attendees at lectures and other fundraisers at the Alexander Mansion.
More info: dallaswomansforum.org


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