By Zoe Wilkerson

This is a story about how my house burned down. I want to get that shock out of the way early so you’re not surprised in the middle and distracted from what I’m sure will be some excellent points I’m making about my community. Everyone is fine. It’s going as well as could be expected given the circumstances. Normally I would avoid the topic altogether. However, I felt it important to include because, when I look at my community, there’s a Before and an After. This story revels in the After.

I grew up in Arlington and have always been an Arlington townie, yelling about how we should be on maps and how we’re the 49th largest city and we deserve some respect since I was wee. When it finally came time to plant some roots, a realtor introduced me to a spot in Southeast Arlington. There, I found the perfect place for me. 

Southeast Arlington is a place of possibility. As I drive down Collins Street, I see construction becoming new businesses and growth. But this growth isn’t at the expense of the small businesses that keep Arlington feeling like a small-town community. Since moving in, we’ve gotten a stellar new coffee shop that celebrates local heroes and works to build relationships, Cup O’ Vibes, and a new taco place where small businesses can sell handmade chamoy candies, Taqueria Taco Express. These businesses do the work to ensure we’re connected with our neighbors.

I didn’t know about these places moving in. The thing that drew me was the Tails N’ Trails Dog Park and its proximity to my truest love, the Arlington Public Library Southwest Branch. On several occasions I have left my dog at the dog park (with someone else supervising, I promise) and picked up the next month’s set of books. It was a necessary part of my schedule for some time. Not only do I benefit from the materials available, but I feel especially blessed that Kutub, the Arabic culture book club, operates out of this branch. I minored in Arabic in college. 

Though this may seem targeted toward my specific interests, the library is just addressing the needs of the local community. And Southeast Arlington is diverse — an enclave that celebrates the different cultures and communities that make it up. In less than 10 minutes, for example, I can get excellent Thai food, award-winning Ethiopian food, Mediterranean food and more.

I was promised a fire, you are likely thinking. Well, the main reason I wanted to bring it up is because — all this is great, but — I wanted to point to the neighbors who make this community spectacular. My neighbor could have driven by when he noticed smoke coming out of my chimney in the middle of May, but he drove around and called 911, likely saving the majority of my house from fire damage. When we had to find temporary housing, my neighbors could have chosen to let my grass grow wild, but they traded off mowing my lawn while we figured things out. Finally, whenever we come to check on the progress, my neighbor is immediately out of her house asking when we’re coming back and inquiring about my dog.

Even if it would have been easier to sell the house as-is and find somewhere new, the engagement and support of my neighbors during this difficult time have shown how much of a community Southeast Arlington truly is, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Zoe Wilkerson has lived in Arlington for a quarter century, which, while not long in the grand scheme of things, seems significant to her. They are the area director of Refugee Services of Texas Fort Worth and the chair of the library advisory board (though she did not abuse this power to get the Arabic book club).

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