Operation Progress Fort Worth: Putting Children on the Right Path
As someone long involved in local issues, and as a former Fort Worth Mayor who worked closely with the police to make our city safer, I’ve seen firsthand how the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve is fragile. I’ve also seen how it is up to all of us to ensure that fragile relationship doesn’t fracture, a topic I wrote to you about last summer. Now more than ever, law enforcement and young people building positive relationships can ensure the good of everyone in our community for years to come—the goal of a new local nonprofit, Operation Progress Fort Worth.
Operation Progress began in Los Angeles to help children in gang-ridden neighborhoods become educated, ethical adults who can reach their full potential. TCU Criminal Justice Professor Johnny Nhan and new Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes (then Deputy Police Chief) were determined to bring the idea to Fort Worth. Last Fall, Fort Worth launched the second chapter of Operation Progress, and true to the spirit of our city, the nonprofit has found no shortage of support among local institutions and Fort Worthians ready to lend a mighty hand.
Through Operation Progress Fort Worth, promising third and fourth graders from underserved areas are selected for successful private schools with tuition covered by the program. To ensure their continued success, each child is also matched with a Fort Worth Police Department Officer who acts as their mentor. Simple activities like basketball games and time spent decorating Christmas cookies (below) lead to something much more powerful. By interacting with officers in a non-enforcement setting—a first for many of these children and their families—bridges are built between the police officers and the children’s communities, growing public trust in places where positive police interactions are rare. As the police officers move from trained warriors to protectors in the children’s eyes, the police officers also gain a fresh understanding of the communities they serve, and the challenges those residents face.
The program’s success supports the wider fabric of Fort Worth—and it can count on the support of our city. Operation Progress’ after-school tutoring program is staffed by volunteer college students from TCU and Texas Wesleyan. Changing a child’s life and strengthening police-citizen trust takes time, and the program’s police officers maintain their mentorships with the children through college. When that time comes, both TCU and Texas Wesleyan are reserving two scholarships every year specifically for Operation Progress students.
As last year made clear, the disconnect between law enforcement and the people and places they serve can have tragic consequences. I’m proud to represent a community in which many police officers, like those who participate in Operation Progress, wear their humanity like a badge of honor. In my years of local leadership, I’ve been a strong supporter of law enforcement and my District Director Charlie served almost 3 decades as a Fort Worth Police Department officer. I also know that building positive police and community relationships require courage and active participation from everyone. However, big things start small—and sometimes they can start with the tiniest Texans, like our local third and fourth graders.