Polytechnic Heights resident and advocate Reba Henry has been selected by Southeast Fort Worth Inc. to lead the Polytechnic Heights Main Street America Program.
Fort Worth launched its Main Street America Program last April to help bolster communities that have suffered from years of disinvestment. The Fort Worth Local Development Corporation will fund the $650,000 pilot program.
“I’m just really over the moon excited about this opportunity,” Henry told the Fort Worth Report. “Just to leave something good here, where my kids grew up and so many other kids I know grew up when I pass on. Leave beauty where you pass is what I was told.”
Polytechnic Heights is one of two neighborhoods selected for the pilot program. Ivan Gutierrez is leading the Historic Northside neighborhood’s Main Street America program. Northside will hold its launch meeting at 9 a.m. Feb. 18.
Henry has been involved in Polytechnic Heights since moving there in 1973. Most recently, she has led a local effort to create a neighborhood association for her community after redistricting split the neighborhood in half.
Her selection as the lead for the Polytechnic Heights Main Street Program was simple as she was “the ideal candidate,” said Stacy Marshall, president and CEO of Southeast Fort Worth Inc.
“She was just the right choice because she lives in the area,” Marshall said. “She understands the area and the people there. She’s a community-engaged person already and Reba comes into the job without a learning curve for the district as a whole.”
The once majority white, blue-collar neighborhood saw a demographic shift in the 1960s when African Americans started moving in. More Hispanic neighbors settled into the neighborhood during the 2000s.
Today, around 63% of the population in the Polytechnic Heights neighborhood is Hispanic, followed by 29% Black and 4% white. The median household income is $45,509 and about 30.2% of the residents live below the poverty line, according to census data.
The implementation of a Main Street America Program in Poly means access to additional resources in an area that has long suffered from disinvestment from both the public and private sectors.
Martha Collins, a revitalization coordinator for the city, said last year that community leaders will identify goals and use metrics to move the neighborhood forward. From there, city staff will come in with program dollars that will “help move the needle” and put their strategy into action over the course of three years.
Fort Worth is the only major city in Texas and one of six cities nationwide participating in the pilot program, Collins said. Main Street America will be a game changer for Polytechnic Heights in particular because it gives the neighborhood a toolbox it wouldn’t typically have access to, Marshall said.
“Those tools have been applied in other cities that are similar to the Polytechnic area and we can take a look at the successes that they’ve made, the challenges that they’ve had, and we can apply that here in the Poly area,” Marshall said. “The goal of this Main Street (program) is to make Poly what Poly used to be back in the heyday when it was its own city — to bring in more commercial, more residential but balance the two out.”
As Henry gears up to lead the initiative, she also wants to make sure the pilot program is sustainable by mentoring the next leaders of the community.
“I’ve been in this position a couple of times where I was the first one to do whatever it was. And you know, you can do all of the work, all of the work, all of the work,” Henry said.“And then when you step aside, if you’ve not mentored some individual or group of individuals, even along the way, then with luck, the organization stays together. But I’ve seen too many flounder because there was not a clear succession path.”
Disclosure: Reba Henry is a member of the Fort Worth Report Reader Advisory Council. Stacy Marshall is a member of the Fort Worth Report Business Advisory Council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.