A thudding jack hammer punctuates the sentences of Paige Charbonnet as she walks around the RISE Community Center, home of LVTRise, greeting staff and pointing to the sites of future projects.

“You can kind of feel the buzz,” Charbonnet said, describing the organization’s next stage of development. 

The buzz signals a new phase for the historically troubled Las Vegas Trail neighborhood, city leadership hopes. Charbonnet takes on the executive director role while Fort Worth starts on long awaited infrastructure improvements, hoping to spur development and improve safety. 

Charbonnet joined the nonprofit organization as a volunteer early on after learning about the challenges facing Las Vegas Trail in west Fort Worth — she lives in a nearby neighborhood. 

“My heart has been here for a long time,” Charbonnet said. 

The Las Vegas Trail area was formerly intertwined with the nearby Carswell Air Force Base (now the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base). The single-family homes and apartments were mostly overflow housing for service members. 

As the bases’ influence waned, apartment managers let their properties degrade. Poor housing and missing services like grocery stores and medical facilities lowered rent prices and concentrated poverty in the neighborhood. 

“The lack of services causes issues over there,” said District 3 council member Michael Crain. His district represents parts of west Fort Worth.

The trail became widely known for crime and poverty following reporting that revealed the challenges facing Las Vegas Trail residents. Fort Worth started a neighborhood revitalization effort in 2017 after town hall meetings with residents, leading to the formation of the nonprofit LVTRise. Two years later, the city of Fort Worth purchased the Westside YMCA to create the Rise Community Center.  

LVTRise and the community center were created to bridge the gap in services created by historic disinvestment. The city funds and provides library services to the community center while LVT Rise runs the center day to day. 

Rise is the only city community center that a nonprofit runs.

LVTRise provides wrap-around services to residents of Las Vegas Trail. The organization started as a mobile food pantry and has since evolved to provide counseling services helping residents access employment and housing services.

Lashaw Specks lives in the Las Vegas Trail area with his wife, Amaga, and 4-year-old son, Amir. After experiencing a stroke about two years ago, Speaks depends on his wife’s income as a leasing agent for a nearby apartment complex. He relies on his truck to transport his wife to and from work. 

A Fort Worth Police Officer stopped Specks about two weeks ago for a broken taillight. Instead of issuing a ticket, the officer referred him to LVTRise to get the problem resolved. 

The organization paid for everything Specks needed to pass inspection, a new car seat and six months of auto insurance. 

“It’s been a blessing,” Specks said. “We don’t take it lightly … With everything being so high, the food and the gas, we needed some type of way, and God made a way for us.” 

In the coming months, Las Vegas Trail is set to receive a series of improvements. Fort Worth hired Interface Studios to produce The Las Vegas Trail Revitalization Plan. It will evaluate the area’s progress and issue recommendations for improvement. 

The Fort Worth City Council expects to hear details of the plan in September. 

“It’s meant to take a comprehensive look, which we’ve never done,” Crain said. “I wanted something that was professionally done, to take all that anecdotal evidence and take some best practices in other areas.”

Las Vegas Trail also receives support through two neighborhood improvement programs. A public improvement district allows the city to collect $0.10 per $100 of assessed value from property owners. The tax brings in about $300,000 per year, Crain said.

Establishing the public improvement district was one of Crain’s first actions on the council, he said. The funds are used for increased police patrol, litter abatement and programming at the community center.

The city recently invested an additional $3.5 million through its Neighborhood Improvement Program. It’s one-time funding for infrastructure projects such as streetscaping, lighting, sidewalks, crosswalks and street restriping. 

The area will also receive a roundabout and a piece of public art. 

“It’s all in an effort to protect those that need it,” Crain said. 

Crain also hopes to add medical resources to the area through JPS Health Network, including primary care physicians, mental health services and nutrition classes. 

The organization has already made a difference in his neighborhood, Specks said. 

“The way people think about the west side is really messed up, because it was messed up,” Specks said. “Rise is the only community center around here and they’ve been doing the best, they repaved the basketball courts so kids can play… It’s kind of a blessing.” 

LVT Rise expands 

While infrastructure improvements ramp up in their neighborhood, LVRise plans to continue expanding its services and partnerships, adding updated basketball courts and a childcare center in partnership with Child Care Associates. 

Child Care Associates, a nonprofit focused on early childcare education, will build and operate a new facility adjacent to the existing community center. Construction is set to begin this fall with plans to serve about 100 children through the free Head Start program.

“We have infinite possibilities in where we can go,” Charbonnet said.

The organization’s greatest strength is its ability to adapt to the needs of the community, Charbonnet said. The organization started looking for ways to add childcare programming to LVTRise after hearing from mothers struggling to get back to work. 

Two years after the organization began operating the community center, LVTRise expanded. Besides the public library branch and community center, the organization added its food pantry, a playground and health programming for elderly residents. 

“We are rooted here. We don’t provide anything that the community didn’t ask for,” Charbonnet said. 

LVTRise partners with the Boys and Girls Club, the Fort Worth police department and the UNT Health Science Center to bring programming to the community center. 

“We don’t reinvent the wheel, and I think that’s really important,” Charbonnet said. 

Instead, LVTRise uses trust built over time with residents to encourage participation. It’s brick- and-mortar presence in the neighborhood assures residents that the organization is here to serve the community long term, she said. 

“If we say we’re going to do something, we do it,” Charbonnet said.

The organization works closely with nearby elementary schools Western Hills Elementary Schools and IDEA Rise. The organization’s goals is to support the school by providing resources like vaccination efforts, school supplies drives and supporting parents through coaching.  

“There are so many good things going on here, I think we often get caught up with the bad,” Charbonnet said.

Lashaw and Amaga Specks have a vision for their neighborhood. The couple is constantly looking for ways to give back to the community.

“The bad doesn’t outweigh the good,” Specks said. “But the bad is powerful.”

The family hopes to keep investing in their community by creating a nonprofit organization to help residents of Las Vegas Trail. The Specks believe most of their neighbors just require a leg up to get back to work and contribute to the neighborhood. Residents, like the Specks family, and organizations, like LVTRise, can go a long way to give their neighbors the boost they need to get ahead, Specks said.  

“I think there’s a lot of people that want to help the west rise up and get away from where it came from,” Specks said.

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Rachel Behrndt

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for fortworthreport.org. She can be reached at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org