BU evaluates effectiveness of faith programs in Dallas

Serve West Dallas is partnering with Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion to see how helpful the efforts of faith-based programs have been to the at-risk communities in West Dallas.Courtesy Art
Serve West Dallas is partnering with Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion to see how helpful the efforts of faith-based programs have been to the at-risk communities in West Dallas.
Courtesy Art
By Abigail Loop
Staff Writer

Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion has joined forces with a Dallas nonprofit, faith-based organization to transform and improve at-risk communities in West Dallas.

Researchers at the institute released a research study this month called “Community Transformation in West Dallas: Developing and Measuring Collective Impact Initiatives.” The study was the result of a joint effort between the institute and Serve West Dallas, a nonprofit collaborative that is composed of 13 faith-based nonprofits, Dallas churches, Dallas residents and businesses.

William Wubbenhorst, a non-resident fellow for the institute, led the research for the study alongside Dr. Byron Johnson, director of Institute for Studies of Religion. Wubbenhorst said when Serve West Dallas approached Johnson over two years ago, the organization wanted research to evaluate programs in the West Dallas area and measure the effectiveness of their initiatives. The study showed the impact of programs at Serve West Dallas on at-risk communities and suggested new community transformation models to help West Dallas residents.

“Our main goal was to provide something to change the dialogue between programs and funders,” Wubbenhorst said. “We wanted to focus on programs that could show positive outcomes. It’s rewarding to help organizations collect data and become part of a change. It’s essential for long-term sustainability.”

Wubbenhorst said researchers focused mainly on the return of investment for programs and taxpayers and the implementation of Services Optimizing Academic Research (SOAR) in public schools in West Dallas. They also focused on various activities and resources for Serve West Dallas’s partners.

“We looked at the costs of the programs in the area to help understand the success and value that is created and the impact on taxpayers costs,” Wubbenhorst said. “We also had collaborative efforts at local elementary schools in West Dallas. The purpose is for these organizations to survive and better demonstrate their outcomes.”

Scott Hanson, executive director of Serve West Dallas, said when Baylor became involved with the organization, it evolved into something bigger than just ‘helping out.’

“They published the study and conducted research on poverty, economic factors and formed a new cross-sector approach that takes the best practices and turns it into an educational based initiative,” Hanson said. “The work Baylor has done has become more strategic and valuable for the work we’re doing in Dallas.”

According to the organization’s website, Serve West Dallas has programs such as The Shalom Project, which is a church-led collective impact initiative that creates partnerships between small neighborhood churches and existing community-based assets. They also have Big Fix, a collaboration of community partners to spay or neuter tens of thousands of pets in low-income zip codes.

The main vision of the organization is to see a spiritual, economic, social and physical transformation of West Dallas neighborhoods, according to the organization’s website.

Both Hanson and Wubbenhorst said they are expecting the new collaboration between Baylor and Serve West Dallas to continue as the models and resources evaluated in the new study are implemented into the West Dallas area.

“Everything has worked but there are still a lot of things we have to do,” Hanson said. “When you look at a community at risk, there are still initiatives that have to be taken.”