Texas Christian University senior Ariana Sheldahl, 21, poses on Nov. 13, 2023, in front of the Mary Couts Burnett Library. Sheldahl, who works as a campus tour guide for potential students, tutors for the nonprofit Operation Progress Fort Worth and is part of a student church group. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

An email jump-started three Texas Christian University students’ mentorship careers.

After Amaya Castillo, 21, Ariana Sheldahl, 20, and Natalie Ridge, 20, received an email from the university’s Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice seeking mentors for the nonprofit Operation Progress Fort Worth, the three embraced the idea.

“It is a program that creates those relationships between underserved communities and the local police department,” Ridge said. “It’s a great way to be involved with something criminal justice-related without it being just a regular internship.”

Ridge, a junior at TCU, began volunteering with Operation Progress Fort Worth because she thought it would be a great way to interact with the Fort Worth community outside of the university campus.

The nonprofit aims to mentor students from third grade through high school graduation to become “educated, ethical and productive adults,” Executive Director Myeshia Smith said. Operating out of the Rivertree Academy Early Learning Center at 5439 Bonnell Ave., in the Como neighborhood, the organization takes a holistic approach to serving area youth.

Texas Christian University senior Ariana Shaldahl, 21, heads to the campus library after work on Nov. 13, 2023. Sheldahl works as a campus tour guide and tutors for the nonprofit Operation Progress Fort Worth. Operation Progress Fort Worth Executive Director Myeshia Smith and her team focus on five pillars: academics, life skills, health and wellness, service and support and safety. Partner schools such as Texas Christian University send students to help with tutoring. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Ariana Sheldahl, 21, heads into the Mary Couts Burnett Library to study. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Sheldahl and classmates Amaya Castillo, 21, and Natalie Ridge, 20, tutor for the nonprofit Operation Progress Fort Worth. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Amaya Castillo, 21, tutors for Operation Progress Fort Worth. Castillo, a senior at TCU, said her mom is on the Operation Progress Los Angeles board. “Back home, I used to go to work with her all the time, and she said it would be amazing for me to learn about how they were bridging the gaps between the community and safety,” Castillo said. “Operation Progress for them is an escape from gangs and seeing drug addictions.” (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Ariana Sheldahl watches as her students play on Nov. 14, 2023. Operation Progress Fort Worth involves police officers through a mentorship program. Executive Director Myeshia Smith said the nonprofit’s founding was the result of a visit to Los Angeles by Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes and Texas Christian University Associate Dean of Graduate Studies Johnny Nhan. “After their visit, they said, ‘We have to have that,’” Smith said. “And so, they came back and started it, and I became executive director in 2020.” (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Operation Progress Fort Worth Executive Director Myeshia Smith poses on Nov. 14, 2023, outside of the Rivertree Academy in the Como neighborhood. Founded in 2019, the nonprofit has been building relationships between Como community members and police officers in a nondisciplinary way, Smith said. “Having an officer as a mentor is really helpful, because then those kids begin to look up to officers and see them more so in the community,” Texas Christian University student Amaya Castillo said. “They’re not scared to approach them.” (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

For Ridge, the mentorship has been eye-opening.

“I still don’t entirely know what I want to do within the criminal justice field, but this has given me a little direction. And I think that I want to do something related to juvenile justice and working with kids,” Ridge said.

Sheldahl wants to be a licensed clinical social worker, and tutoring in the Como community has helped her see some of the adverse childhood experiences of students in underserved communities.

“It’s definitely given me this perspective, and it’s something that I really want. To try to make that change,” Sheldahl said. “I feel like my role in the community is honestly advocating for programs like this.”

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. 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.

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Cristian is a May 2021 graduate of Texas Christian University. At TCU, ArguetaSoto served as staff photographer at TCU360 and later as its visual editor, overseeing other photojournalists. A Fort Worth...