By Katie Kassler
“Have you ever seen Oprah’s Legends Ball?”
I hadn’t, but after watching a few YouTube videos, I understood exactly what one guest of True Worth Place was talking about.
In 2005, Oprah invited 25 outstanding women, like Tina Turner, Maya Angelou, and Coretta Scott King, to her home in California to celebrate their contributions to entertainment, the arts, and civil rights. It was a beautiful weekend full of gourmet food, guest performers, and elaborate decorations. In Oprah’s own words, “love is in the details.”
“That’s what True Worth Place is like.”
Unfortunately, many homeless residents face challenges when trying to get the help they need. Using public transportation to get to doctor appointments, the Veterans Affairs office, or food distributions can be difficult or even impossible.
Norman Kronick, a Fort Worth-based commercial real estate developer, thought the city could do more.
Just before his death in 2010, Kronick used his $100 million fortune to establish the Fort Worth Foundation. Its sole purpose is to help feed the hungry and provide a better life for homeless residents of Fort Worth and the surrounding north Texas area. The foundation immediately saw the need for a new central resource facility and took on the project.
After several years of planning and ten months of construction, True Worth Place opened its doors to more than 200 guests Dec. 15, 2016. It serves as a day shelter, a central resource facility, and even houses a medical clinic provided by JPS Health Network.
The clinic is connected to the back of the building and provides top-quality medical and dental services directly to people coming into True Worth Place. There are 12 patient rooms, two dental stations, a pharmacy and radiology services staffed by licensed doctors and nurses. Patients can be tested for tuberculosis and other diseases, receive regular dental cleanings and medical check-ups and obtain other health services.
In the main building, you might find people resting in cushioned chairs next to a fireplace, socializing in the beautifully landscaped courtyard outside, using computers in the lobby or eating a hot meal in the dining area.
The 40,000 square-foot building also features electronic lockers to store personal items, hot showers, as well as washers and dryers. This way, people can access all the services True Worth Place has to offer without having to carry around all of their belongings.
But, for many people who use these amenities, it’s the little things that matter the most.
“One woman broke down crying after her first time here,” recalled James Petrovich, True Worth Place consultant and chair of the Department of Social Work at TCU. “She was so happy that she could finally use a shower with a door.”
Petrovich was hired by True Worth Place to help the organization better understand homelessness. Petrovich, students from the Department of Social Work, and other experts travelled to Portland, Ore., and Nashville, Tenn., to research other shelters that use evidence-based practices to best eradicate homelessness.
Their research and expertise helped True Worth Place establish its five core values: respect, hope, trust, empowerment and excellence.
“Our values are more than just something we put on a wall or on our website,” said Petrovich. “The board members use values-based decisions to run the facility and ensure that people have more power over the care they receive.” One simple, but important, values-based decision the board has made is to call the people True Worth Place serves “guests” instead of something traditional like “customers” or “clients.” The Fort Worth Foundation wanted to move away from an institutional feel to build positive relationships with the community.
“It changes the power dynamic – it puts volunteers in the position of service, and guests in the position of more authority,” Petrovich explained.
People who are experiencing homelessness face many “no’s” about what they can and can’t do. The organization wants to build a community where guests have more choices about everything, from the brands of toiletries they receive to the actual policies of the facility.
“If someone has a problem with something going on, we want to sit down with them and talk about how it impacts them, others around them, and whether it’s respectful or not,” explained Petrovich. “That’s what communities do,”
Another way True Worth Place breaks barriers is by providing a variety of classes to guests almost every day. While many other shelters provide life skills and financial management training, True Worth Place also gives people the opportunity to take classes on arts and crafts, music, fitness and even soul-searching. These classes allow guests to access the creative parts of their brain, build meaningful relationships with others and reduce the stress of daily life.
To Judi Glover, community engagement coordinator, that’s part of what makes True Worth Place so special.
“We have an opportunity to think outside the box,” Glover said. “Because we’re so new and we have such a great staff, we can do something unique, like offer fun classes, that no one else is really doing in the area.”
Many people in the community believe that the best way to help someone suffering from homelessness is to show them how to budget or write a resume. This is not always the case.
“Not everything has to be about life skills,” said Glover. “If we can offer a watercolor painting class and somebody gets to escape their situation for even just an hour, we’ve done our job.”
Glover, along with the education coordinator, is working to get various TCU departments involved with these classes. Studio art students might teach an art class, or an English student could lead a creative writing workshop.
Some guests have even taken the initiative to help out around the facility.
“There are some [guests] who volunteer every day,” Glover explained. “They don’t get paid. They don’t get special benefits out of it, but they’re willing to do something because they can’t just sit around.”
Some guests volunteer to do about 30 loads of laundry a day.
“Most people here want to help themselves, you know, so you get out what you put in,” said one guest.
However, Toby Owen, chief executive officer, hopes that one day True Worth Place will not be needed.
“The end goal is to move people out of homelessness and into homes,” Owen said.
On my first visit to True Worth Place, I didn’t immediately think of Oprah’s mansion, but I see the connection now. Oprah spent months planning every little detail of the ball from the color of the table cloths to the types of flowers placed on each table. And, while True Worth Place doesn’t have fancy decorations, the employees and volunteers behind the organization have put just as much effort into the policies and services they provide to their guests.
I think Oprah was certainly right — love is in the details.