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It Takes a Village

Two police officers prove communities are stronger together.

It was 1990, in Morningside, Fort Worth, Texas, when police officers Gary Randle and Noble Crawford finally had enough. Throughout the years, the number of young, impressionable, inner-city youths joining gangs became too many to ignore, and their time patrolling the streets confirmed the issue. But why? 
Through research, Randle and Crawford uncovered a direct pipeline connecting children in fatherless homes to eventual gang affiliation.
From that moment, they felt compelled to create a leadership program of prevention and early-development training for boys: an attempt to fill the void left by an absent father. And to that end, HOPE Farm was born, a ministry in Morningside for fatherless boys and their single moms that provides mentorship to guide at-risk boys to become Christ-centered men of integrity. 
"Our framework provides structure but with the flexibility of implementation based on need, availability, and local partners," says Victor Neil, VP of Marketing and Development at HOPE Farm. "The pillars of Wisdom, Stature, Discipleship, and Relationship are embedded in everything we do in our leadership program."
Neil came to HOPE six years ago after spending 21 years in marketing at Texas Christian University. A friend of Neil's whose wife already worked at HOPE, set up the first meeting between Neil and Randle at Paris Coffee Shop off Magnolia Ave. 
"Mr. Randle invited me to visit the campus to meet the young men in the program," says Neil. "I saw what a difference HOPE Farm was making in the lives of these young men."
A father to three young boys aged 9, 7, and 5, Neil understood the critical bond between father and son and how the absence of it could cause irreparable damage. 
"I grew up overseas with a mother and a father, so I know what a family can look like," explains Neil. "These young men and their moms struggle for several reasons, and HOPE Farm is making a big difference in their lives by providing opportunities and access that otherwise would not exist."
HOPE Farm has grown from the initial campus in Morningside to include two other facilities: one in Como, established in 2009, and South Dallas, established in 2020. These Texas neighborhoods unfortunately harbor some of the highest crime and poverty rates.
Morningside has the lowest life expectancy in Texas, with single parents managing 84% of the homes there. 
Como's crime rate is 70% higher than the national average, with violent crimes 67% higher. 
South Dallas is in the ninth percentile for safety in the state and produced more inmates in Texas than any other zip code in 2019.
While the stats in these communities are glum, hope is not lost. Texas spends approximately $23,000 per inmate per year, so in the spirit of Randle and Crawford's mission to get fatherless children out of the prison system, HOPE Farm invests approximately $23K per boy per year, a proactive versus reactive approach. And when fatherless children account for 63% of youth suicides and 90% of homeless and runaway children, the need has never been greater. 
In contrast to their surroundings, HOPE boys boast high school diplomas,
graduate from college and become leaders in their community and the military. 
But that's not to say that the boys' lives are any easier than their gang-affiliated counterparts. In the winter of 2022, the staff at the center stood by while one of its nine-year-old members suffered through the loss of his young mother, only 34 years old at the time of her death, a pain Neil knows all too well, losing his father in 1997. And the sounds of gunshots terrified the Morningside campus when a quadruple homicide occurred just a few blocks away. 
Currently, the center specializes in literacy, as 2/3 of students unable to read proficiently by the end of fourth grade end up in jail or on welfare. Hope Farm's program accelerates students reading levels by one to two years after 40 to 60 hours in its program, with some boys increasing their level by 4.8 years in only eight months. And even though staff can't take away the boy's hardships at home, they provide the necessary support to overcome them. During the pandemic in 2020, the facility served over 550 families by providing 1500 meals and sharing over 70 electronic devices with its students from March through May. 
"We did everything in our power to help our families who were losing jobs, unable to pay rent, and had no internet service to be able to connect to schools and work," explained Sacher Dawson, Executive Director of HOPE Farm. "Low-income families were hit the hardest during Covid, and we slowly lost contact with over half of our HOPE Farm families at the time because many were forced to relocate to survive." 
Now, almost three years after the turmoil caused by the pandemic, the campuses are gaining traction. "This year has been one of tremendous growth and accomplishment," says Neil. "In September, we welcomed back a full house and currently have a waitlist for our Leadership Development Program."
The growth is proof that a dream spanning over 30 years to create a sense of family among fatherless boys has endurance, a vision stronger than any hardship because it's the will of a community to protect its children. 

"These young men and their moms struggle for several reasons, and HOPE Farm is making a big difference in their lives by providing opportunities and access that otherwise would not exist."