Photography by Danny Fulgencio

Martha Stowe has been executive director of the Vickery Meadow Youth Development program for the past 13 years. After her experience in social work, she was given the opportunity to start a foundation to help the Vickery Meadow neighborhood. While her kids have gone on to colleges, master’s programs and promising careers, the work is always evolving. The program set up a COVID-19 testing site in the neighborhood because of the high number of cases among Burmese workers in the nearby factories. She also helped develop programs, including a robotics team and reading initiatives, for elementary and middle school children. Besides her work, she says she is most proud of her husband, Ken Benson, where they live on White Rock Creek near the spillway of White Rock Lake.

On Challenges

Most challenging aspect:

“Other people’s attitudes of not understanding that just because someone doesn’t have English as a first language doesn’t mean they don’t have an incredible amount to say. Understanding that our kids may look like a teenager of color, which may look scary to you, but actually it’s a really bright teenager who’s a great artist. One of the joys is that no matter where we take the kids, we hear back, ‘The nicest group of kids.'”

On Misconceptions

Misconceptions that people have about the foundation:

“For nonprofits, people have a lot of misconceptions that it’s easy work. We base everything we do on research and on data. This isn’t just a bunch of “do-gooders” doing what’s fun or feels good. We really are based on science and trying to use the best information possible to make the best decisions we can.”

On Influences

Greatest influence:

Mother Teresa by far. When I was in college, my mom gave me a book on Mother Teresa. When I wanted to drop out of college, she said, ‘Well, Mother Teresa went to college.’ I was actually able to go visit Mother Teresa in India.”

On the Kids

Working with the Vickery Meadow youth:

“The last census told us about 8,000 kids live in this neighborhood. It’s a very young neighborhood, and it’s all apartments. Part of my job is to figure out what the needs are in the community and then help bring in the things to address those needs. We worked collaboratively with everybody in the community. One of the things that we found out quickly was the middle school had programs for kids who don’t do well, but it didn’t have anything for kids who have a lot of potential. One of our major programs is Eagle scholars. The program works with kids after the sixth grade, and they stay in it until they graduate from high school. We help them through college as well. This gives them exposure to careers, various skills like public speaking, time management, how to network — all the soft skills that kids need to succeed in college. They get help with writing essays, applications and scholarships. Our kids are from about 30 different countries, so we try to give them exposure to social situations and educational enrichment activities.”

On the Program

Why it’s important:

“I grew up with parents who were able to take me to classes and do summer camps and travel. We try to provide activities for these kids that their parents can’t afford. Honestly, their parents work so much that a lot of times they’re not available to do these kinds of things. We’re trying to give them all those advantages as well.”

On Accomplishments

Proudest accomplishment:

“Just because someone is low income doesn’t mean they aren’t smart and talented. I’m most proud that we are able to help these kids find ways to be creative, do things, learn things and move beyond their own mental limitations. We’ve got kids who’ve graduated, gotten master’s degrees and gone back to their countries to be professionals. We’ve got so many great stories of things these kids have been able to accomplish.”

On Dinner

Dinner with any living person:

“If Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t available, probably Madeleine Albright. I think she’s incredibly bright, brave and has simplified leadership.”

On Lakewood

Biggest problem the Lakewood community faces:

“I think Lakewood is probably one of the best communities in town, actually, because there is diversity and a community feeling. I would like to maintain that community feeling and maintain our local stores and restaurants.”

On the Neighborhood

Favorite neighborhood spot:

“I love walking through Forest Hills, and the trees are great. Of course, White Rock Lake and the Arboretum.”

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