Building a Cielito Lindo in Fort Worth
“We are seeing the most revolutionary change of all - a change in attitude, outlook, perspective. Neighbors realize they are not helpless. They can be positive forces for good.”
In a barrio north of downtown Fort Worth, a vision for a “Beautiful Little Heaven” (“Cielito Lindo”), a children’s playground at La Trinidad United Methodist Church, stands in stark contrast to the crack house a few yards away where drug traffickers flagrantly transact their business. Undeterred, Dr. Daniel Flores and the congregation have stepped out in faith to reclaim this community for the purposes of Christ. “If we don’t take ownership here, then we’ve really abandoned our mission. We want to be here as friends and a close-knit community,” Dr. Flores explained.
Cielito Lindo began with Vacation Bible School teacher Alvina Davila. “With a congregation of mostly older adults, we were elated when 40 children arrived at our door last summer, but Alvina wanted more for them. She promised them a safe place to play,” said Flores. The entire congregation rallied around the playground project, participating in a contest to name it, forming committees to design and build it, and commissioning an artist to paint a mural on the adjoining wall. John Davila, chair of the design committee, and Alvina’s husband, designed Cielito Lindo t-shirts to help raise funds for the project. Shaped around a common goal that will improve the neighborhood, the congregation has become a cohesive community.
Though the neighborhood surrounding the 93-year-old church shows signs of neglect, there are also deep ties to the community’s rich past. The church continues a long history of community activism, hosting a televised weekly community forum and sponsoring Code Ranger training for neighborhood volunteers to detect and report city code violations, such as illegal dumping. Dr. Flores understands the reality and the power of interdependence: he uses all the resources he can find - fostering relationships with principals at the elementary school up the street and with the NPOs (Neighborhood Police Officers) - to empower the church and its neighbors to restore safety, pride, and vitality to their community.
Like the message of hope in the good news he preaches to the congregation, Dr. Flores sees the neighborhood transforming. New businesses are springing up and existing properties are undergoing improvements. “And we are seeing the most revolutionary change of all - a change in attitude, outlook, perspective. Neighbors realize they are not helpless. They can be positive forces for good.” Attracted by the sense of energy and resolve, new families are attending worship. People are looking forward to new possibilities. An after-school mentoring and tutoring program, Amigos in Action, is planned to further serve the needs of the children.
The Texas Methodist Foundation awarded a grant to La Trinidad UMC from our Undesignated Endowment to help fund the playground project. “Sometimes God’s love is found in a security fence and good lighting,” commented Candy Gross, Vice President of Fund and Investor Services. “Seeing Alvina’s love for those children spread through the congregation and neighborhood and result in a safe playground has been such a joy. Their experience shows the power of love to unite and transform a community.”
God’s love continues to blossom around La Trinidad UMC as they find more and more ways to serve their community. In July 2007, the Foundation funded an additional grant to establish the Weekend Soccer Mentoring Program for children aged 12-16. Funds provided by the Foundation will be used to construct a soccer practice field, provide soccer equipment, and pay for promoting the program.
“We are very grateful for our positive experiences with the Texas Methodist Foundation in helping La Trinidad UMC meet our financial needs for mission and serve at-risk youth in our community,” added Dr. Flores.