Ben Leal, CEO, Jubilee Park & Community Center
Tell us about your most memorable day (so far) in your work at Jubilee Park & Community Center.
It’s hard to choose a memorable day because there are so many incredible stories. I am continually inspired by how hard-working, resilient, and hopeful our neighbors are. After eight years at Jubilee, I can say without a doubt I have been just as impacted as our clients.
One story that comes to mind is a Christmas event we held where a volunteer dressed up as Santa to interact with the children. He asked a little boy, Cody, what he wanted for Christmas and Cody replied that what he really wanted was a bed. Santa asked what he meant, and Cody explained that he had never had a bed. Bouncing from place to place, he had always slept on the floor or maybe on a couch as his mother tried to stabilize their life. Word of Cody’s Christmas wish spread, and by December 25th we had a set of bunk beds for Cody and his brother installed in the family’s apartment. The joy and pride those two boys gained from having their own places to sleep is something I’ll never forget.
Can you share more about your five pillars of comprehensive community revitalization?
Our pillars of impact were identified and refined over several years by asking our community members what they want and need. It sounds simple, but it takes time to gain the trust and rapport where a neighbor will be honest and open. It also takes time to research best practices, collect data to quantify need and develop programs that will address those needs.
Safety was one of the first areas that everyone could agree on—at one point, crime was so rampant in the community that garbage collectors didn’t come to Jubilee for fear of being shot. Health soon followed, because chronic disease and malnutrition was keeping our children from learning, our adults from working and our seniors from accessing resources. Housing was one of the most visibly obvious needs because so many homes had broken windows, trees growing through a roof or a wall, no running water or electricity and other problems you wouldn’t imagine in Dallas.
Education was another easy point of agreement because (like anyone) our neighbors want what is best for the next generation and for their families’ futures. Therefore, we knew we needed to incorporate education for both children and adults. Opportunity is a new area of focus for us, with the goal of connecting our neighbors and families to opportunities and resources that will help them improve their own lives and community. After all, you can have a really safe, healthy, educated family in a decent house, but opportunity is how they will make gains and increase their self-sufficiency. We really believe that these are the building blocks of the American Dream, and we want that dream to be alive and well in Southeast Dallas.
It would be hard to list all the programs that help us fulfill these five pillars of impact, but our top programs include a deep partnership with Dallas Police Department and the local neighborhood associations, free access to nutrition/fitness/sports/clinical services, the only free mental health program in Southeast Dallas, more than 50 affordable homes and 24 affordable senior housing units constructed in the neighborhood, nationally recognized afterschool and summer programs, adult education in key workforce topics, case management, financial literacy, leadership training, and advocacy efforts with the city, school district, chamber of commerce and county.
How are you using the funds from the Moody Foundation to further your mission?
The Moody Foundation has been an incredible resource to Jubilee, not just as an important seal of approval but also through their strong support of education programs. With the help of the Moody Foundation, we’ve nearly doubled the capacity of our afterschool program through an innovative scaling effort which leverages a nearby elementary school’s space, equipment and staff. They’ve also helped us pilot, launch and continually improve an adaptive program within the mainstream afterschool and summer offerings which is specifically designed to support students with special learning needs.
We are using the Moody Foundation’s funding specifically for an expanded afterschool and summer program. The expansion is taking two forms: Physically increasing capacity of the program as well as expanding access for students with learning differences. We often have a waiting list that equals the number of students we are able to serve, and the Moody Foundation has helped us finally serve more of the Southeast Dallas population. Research shows that a low-quality or even medium-quality program has the same impact as no program at all—so we know our high-quality programs are crucial to helping our neighborhood children succeed. Kids typically come to us at least two years behind in reading and math, and we are able to help them measurably close that gap. Some of our kids learn differently than others, so we meet them and their families where they are to maximize their success. This just wouldn’t have been possible without the investment and endorsement of the Moody Foundation.
As a result of this recent growth, Jubilee is impacting more children than ever before—82% are improving significantly in reading and 92% are improving significantly in math. We’ve helped a 6th grade girl with dyslexia go from reading at a kindergarten level to reading at her grade level in just six months. The Moody Foundation is helping us create educational equity in a community where no other quality enrichment exists.
How many people do you serve each year?
It’s our privilege and honor to serve a neighborhood of 5,500 people through safety programs, community events and resource awareness campaigns. Our park welcomes about 8,000 visitors per month. In our direct programs, we serve about 1,600 individuals ranging from pregnant moms and babies all the way to our 92-year-old next door neighbor. In the past few years our work has been replicated in South Dallas, West Dallas and Fort Worth, so despite our best efforts at measuring outcomes, Jubilee’s work is impacting more people than we can possibly count!
What are you hoping to achieve in the next several years?
We just launched the strategic plan for Jubilee’s next five years, which is so exciting. We laugh because the planning was so much fun, so thought-provoking, so inspiring, and now that we have this data-driven roadmap… it’s time to get to work!
Some highlights from the plan include launching our newest pillar, Opportunity. This includes building opportunity on a personal level, through case management, increased referrals and financial literacy, as well as building opportunity on a community level, through advocacy, building a pipeline of community leaders, and increased partnerships to bring resources to the neighborhood. Much of this work is being done by our Community Support Specialist, who grew up in the neighborhood coming to Jubilee’s afterschool programs. She says that Jubilee changed her life, and it’s incredible to see her giving back as part of our staff.
Other highlights include our hope to build a high school program into our core offerings. Right now our programs go up to 8th grade, and it’s hard to stay in touch with our teens. A high school program will ensure they continue to get much-needed support, resources, and exposure to as many versions of success as possible. We want every Jubilee student to be ready for their career or college experience. We are also working more and more closely with surrounding neighborhoods to build a united front in advancing the future of Southeast Dallas. We started some important certificate programs in workforce development, we’re working to address the need for housing preservation and aging-in-place concerns, and we have some pretty exciting health solutions coming up.
Jubilee is ready to bring 21st-century answers to some of Texas’ toughest questions. With the help of the Moody Foundation, and the strength of our neighbors, we know we can do it.