Safety Net: Fort Worth nonprofit empowers people in poverty

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This story is from this semester’s second edition of IMAGE Magazine, published today and available at news stands around campus.

TCU students and alumni are working to better the Fort Worth community through a charitable organization called The Net Fort Worth.

The Net Fort Worth aims to empower those in poverty through community and relationship building.

The organization’s mission consists of two specific parts. First, it provides a safety net for impoverished and exploited people in the community. At the same time, it creates a network of churches and individuals that volunteer or provide resources to make sure the organization can continue its work.

According to its website, The Net’s network is a connected system of volunteers, churches, businesses, schools, professionals and other non-profits that work with the marginalized people of Fort Worth in an effort to empower and encourage self-sufficiency.

Ty Bowden, a TCU alumnus who graduated this May as a political science major, now works as a program coordinator for The Net.

“I started volunteering during my sophomore year because I wanted to get involved with an organization that was fighting human trafficking,” Bowden said. “I went to a training and have been around ever since, going from volunteer to intern to staff.”

IMG_5304Bowden said The Net focuses on three specific groups of people in Fort Worth: the homeless, women who have been sexually exploited and low-income neighborhoods.

Bowden is responsible for the Ladera Palms apartment complex and the Men Against Sexual Exploitation, a group that seeks to engage men in Fort Worth to fight against the purchasing of commercial sex.

“There are over 500 resettled refugee families at Ladera, so the vast majority of the kids we hang out with are refugees,” Bowden said. “We do an after-school mentoring program with 25-40 refugee kids once a week, along with play dates on Saturdays once a month.”

Anna Guillory, a junior art education major, is another member of the TCU community that participates in the Ladera Palms program.

Guillory volunteered at The Net for a year and spent time at the Ladera Palms complex on Wednesday nights with the refugee children.

“A lot of the kids are from Nepal, Congo and India,” Guillory said. “I totally thought that the only way to work with people like this was to travel, but I do not have to travel so far to work with people from exotic places.”

The mentor program consists of volunteers who are assigned groups of kids ranging from ages five to 14. Each Wednesday night they learn a Bible story and do crafts with some educational value.IMG_5265

“The Net has been a great way for me to get to know Fort Worth outside of the TCU bubble,” Guillory said. “I think it is really neat as a college student to help these kids who are always told that they are from a bad place. It is cool to show them that we care.”

Another large portion of The Net’s efforts go towards fighting human trafficking and the exploitation of women.

Stephanie Paulson, a third-year student, currently works as an intern at The Net. She also got involved with the organization because she had a desire to fight human trafficking and wants to become a lawyer to fight the trafficking industry.

Paulson began working for The Net after attending a training session that described the sex industry here in Fort Worth.

“I knew I had to get involved,” Paulson said. “First, I started with going to jail to visit women who have been prostituted.”

The experiences at the jail had a profound effect on Paulson. After a few weeks of visiting the women in jail, she decided to apply as a summer intern.

“This was the most impactful and incredible summer I have ever had,” Paulson said. “I have always had a passion for women knowing that they are loved and valued because I feel like so many women feel the opposite based on the way society tells them to look or act.”

Building relationships has been a huge part of the experience for Paulson, who still remembers the first time that she visited the jail to meet with women who had participated in prostitution.

“I do remember the first time I went to the jail and I was so afraid, but this amazing woman sat in front of me and I froze,” Paulson said. “She smiled and said, ‘Honey are you new?’”

The woman went on to recount stories of being sold to men by her mother so that she could acquire drugs, running away and eventually being picked up by a pimp.

“I was completely blown away by the joy in her eyes when she was telling me all of this,” Paulson said. “When I started to tell her how sorry I was for her she smiled at me and said, ‘Oh honey do not feel sorry for me. God is good. He has always been with me and has protected me from so much and now He has allowed me to be in jail so that I can tell others about his goodness in grace.’”

Paulson said it was this moment that made her realize she wanted to fight human trafficking and make these visits for the rest of her life.

Paulson also participates in the Bingo and Bagels program on Friday mornings. The Net shares breakfast with the homeless people of Fort Worth and they offer friendship and someone to talk to. The goal of the program is to make the people who attend the program feel valuable and loved even when society tells them that they are not.

Bowden, Guillory and Paulson all said building powerful relationships was the most impactful part of working for The Net.

IMG_5291While Paulson made meaningful relationships through the prison visit program, Guillory and Bowden have been the most impacted by working with the refugee children.

“Although I originally got involved with The Net for anti-trafficking reasons, the Ladera kids have had, by far, the most impact on my life,” Bowden said. “I have built relationships with them over the last two years and have grown to love and care for them immensely. They are the highlight of my week and have taught me so much, allowing me to grow personally and spiritually.”