Alumnus brings life to the heart of a struggling Texas neighborhood   

by Abigayle Sloan, ’07

Near the corner of Interstate 30 and Loop 820 in Fort Worth, Texas, sits a neighborhood in which more than half of the population lives below the poverty level. The community of Woodhaven is 3.2 square miles. In the center of the neighborhood between four brick walls lies a beacon of hope for children and teens.

Carl Pollard, ’89, works with a girl at the community center he and his wife opened in Woodhaven, Texas.
 

"I started the Community Center to support kids and to create a better Woodhaven,” said Carl Pollard, ’89.

According to the website spotcrime.com, more than 50 offenses, including robbery, assault and vandalism, were reported within a few miles of the community center between October 2012 and February 2013. The area was predominantly white and upper-class until the early 2000s, but Pollard said low-income housing was built and changed the dynamic of
the area.

“The whole community has done a complete 180,” said Pollard. “No one had the guts to open a community center in this kind of neighborhood and I did it with faith and support
from my wife.”

While most would steer clear of a crime-ridden area like Woodhaven, Pollard said it’s exactly where he wants to be.

“It reminds me of my hometown,” said Pollard.

He grew up in Benton Harbor. In the 1980s, Michigan’s violent crime rate was steadily rising, and the city, which is settled between Detroit and Chicago, was becoming a juncture for drug trade.

“Growing up was a struggle. I remember living in Benton Harbor as a freshman in high school. I was playing sports and trying to stay focused while many of my classmates were on drugs and in gangs,” he said. “I kept tunnel vision, and promised my mom that as soon as I graduated I would get out of that town.”

Carl Pollard, ’89, is pictured with kids who attend a community center he opened. The center serves more than 40 children and teenagers.
 

Despite the disparity around him, Pollard concentrated on sports and his faith. It paid off when he was awarded a four-year football scholarship to Grand Valley. He set his sights on a degree in criminal justice, although he admitted that he didn’t feel prepared during his first couple of years on campus.

He said: “Coming from an all-black community to Grand Valley was not easy. It was a culture shock. I second guessed myself, and almost enlisted in the Army before my coach stopped me.”

Advisors and professors helped Pollard see the importance of patience and discipline, and also that learning how to relate to people from different races and backgrounds could be a positive experience.

Immediately following graduation in 1989, Pollard worked for D.A. Blodgett St. John’s Home in Grand Rapids as a youth counselor. During his 18 years of service with that organization, he worked with youth who had been sexually abused, neglected and abandoned. His passion for working with at-risk kids intensified over the years, and he earned accolades for his keen mentoring ability.

In 2006, Pollard and his wife, Tina, moved to Fort Worth. Carl worked as a behavior specialist as a part of the Fort Worth Independent School District and Tina established a tax services business. The two were settled and content until 2011 when funding for Pollard’s program was halted by the district and, at the age of 45, he was without a job.

“I had never been unemployed in 23 years. It was scary not knowing what I was going to do. I woke up and said to myself, ‘I’m going to do this,’” said Pollard.

With the help of his wife, Pollard utilized her former tax office in Woodhaven and converted it into a community center in June. The word spread, and the kids he once saw roaming the streets outside the building began to show up at the front door. Over the course of the next few months, Pollard was granted support from the City of Fort Worth to start a free summer lunch program, and the community center now serves more than 40 area children
and teens.

“You offer free food and the kids are going to come. There is structure in my community center. Then they go home and it’s chaos. No electricity, no water in the apartments just across the street,” he said.

Woodhaven Community Center has earned nonprofit status, however, the Pollards continue to pour personal funds into the center as they work to establish stronger roots in the neighborhood. The center serves children ages 8-13 after school during the week. Pollard hopes to gain enough funds and support to eventually purchase a van so that he can transport kids to and from the center.

“I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to throw in the towel, but I’m thankful for the support of my wife,” he said.

The road ahead seems long for Pollard and his community center, but he said he will work tirelessly to provide a safe haven for the kids of Woodhaven and transform his neighborhood, from the inside out. When he’s not at the community center, Pollard works as a high school football official, and has worked on a chain crew for the Dallas Cowboys for the last five years.
 


News Briefs

From left are Joan Boand, Donna Lopiano and Patti Rowe.
 

Women in Sports

The Alumni House and Visitor Center was bursting at the seams for the Celebration of Women in Sport and Physical Activity on February 23.

Joan Boand and Patti Rowe were honored at this Title IX anniversary celebration with the launch of the Boand and Rowe Endowment Fund.

Guests enjoyed words from Donna Lopiano, former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, and continued the celebration with a Laker women’s basketball victory.
 

 

 

 

Registration now open for GVSU Alumni Golf Outing

Limited space available for the July 20 outing at The Meadows.

All proceeds help support student financial assistance, educational opportunities and professional development. Get more information and register at www.gvsu.edu/alumni/golfouting.htm.

 

Business alumna, music professor receive accolades

The Alumni Association awarded Laurie Finney Beard,’81, with the Distinguished Alumni Award on April 26.

Beard was instrumental in the formation and successful capitalization of Founders Bank & Trust, a privately held community bank in Grand Rapids. She is also a director of the Grand Valley University Foundation.

Arthur Campbell received the Outstanding Educator Award. He is a professor of music and was nominated by some of his former students. Campbell has been teaching at Grand Valley since 1996 and is nationally and internationally known for his musical achievements.


 

Page last modified May 9, 2013