Love and Support: How Dallas Community Fellowship Inc. Is Meeting the Needs of a Neighborhood

Despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19, Dallas Community Fellowship Inc. (DCFI) was committed to hosting its sixth annual Summer Rocks camp in 2020. “We were determined to not buckle,” said Pat Ford, DCFI Founder and Executive Director.

Instead, the organization, which is based in South Dallas’s Kessler Heights neighborhood, pivoted. From holding the camp primarily outdoors to having individual bags with activity materials, DCFI did everything they could to keep attendees safe while providing a summer focused on fun, character development and social-emotional learning.

“We bring that love and support, and try to give our children the social-emotional learning they need in order to be successful in the future, or even just to feel good about themselves for one day,” said Ford, who grew up in the Kessler Heights community. “It’s so important for our children to learn themselves, to identify their anger, their sadness, their happiness.”

Along with helping youth develop life and leadership skills and learn more about entrepreneurship, Summer Rocks 6 focused on academics by partnering with Beacon Hill to offer virtual learning. Despite the change in format, from gardening and painting to going on a photography scavenger hunt, each day was packed with activities. Community teenagers, ages 13 to 17, helped facilitate programming to first and fourth graders. “It was very, very challenging,” Ford said. “But we went ahead and stepped out on faith, and it was a success.”

Such a success, in fact, that the six-week summer camp was extended to eight weeks, and DCFI was honored as Dallas City of Learning’s Partner of the Year. The recognition is given to an outstanding, multi-year partner whose work in summer learning has demonstrated elevated levels of expertise year over year in how they impact access and dosage to high quality summer programming. 

High quality summer programming is just part of what the organization, which was founded in 2007 and is based out of The Loop Apartments, does. Although the focus was initially on helping youth in the Kessler Heights community, programming shifted to include the whole family. “We realized that the children are going through a lot, but the parents are too,” Ford said.  “We’ve been trying to get our parents engaged and build a bridge to let them know that we’re here to help and we’re here to stay. We’re building relationships and trust.”

Now, DCFI provides programming and resources for the entire community, whether it’s locating furniture or finding food, bringing in a mammogram van or helping a community member connect with a counselor. Along with GED prep and after-school programming, there’s also senior activities, music lessons and a community choir. “It’s kind of like we adopted the community,” Ford said. “We partner with so many people in order to bring this community what they need, because a lot of times they don’t have the resources.”

Throughout the pandemic, those resources have been especially important, and that support will continue into the summer, when camp will once again be offered.

This year, Summer Rocks 7 will be held from June 21 to July 30, and Ford says that for the first time, the plan is to include two locations: First and second graders will be at The Loop Apartments, while older students will be at a nearby church where there’s a larger space available.

And no matter what challenges or ups and downs this summer might bring, you can count on one thing: DCFI won’t buckle. “God’s given me this vision to work in this community,” Ford said. “And by the grace of God, we’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep pushing forward.”