Polytechnic Heights resident’s nonprofit teaches students to make a difference

dfwnewsa | December 26, 2023 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Polytechnic Heights resident’s nonprofit teaches students to make a difference

BE-MAD: The nonprofit Be Entrepreneurial & Make A Difference in Fort Worth’s Polytechnic Heights supports students outside the classroom.
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When Joanna Ramirez agreed to film an event for a local nonprofit, she didn’t expect it would change her future. 

The senior at Polytechnic High School loves cinematography, but thought it should be a hobby rather than a career. Then, while filming the event, she overheard Texas Wesleyan University students say that they switched majors after first prioritizing money over passion.

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That clicked with her.

Stories like Ramirez’s are why Drayone Jones started the Be Entrepreneurial & Make A Difference nonprofit in March to serve the Polytechnic Heights community. The organization empowers students by offering support outside the classroom: outings with college students in the neighborhood and tradespeople; meeting community members; volunteering at nursing homes. 

“I’m glad to know that they’re getting the support and help they need,” Ramirez said. “Because as an eighth grader, I would have loved to have that.”

The nonprofit, also known as BE-MAD, has about 20 students from the Poly neighborhood and older members who volunteer at community events, Jones said. He’s working with middle schools in the area to introduce the nonprofit to more students. 

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He chooses the “emotional intelligence” approach to support his students academically, Jones said. He likes to keep up with data and knows that students in his community don’t perform well at school. 

But the problem goes beyond learning in the classroom, he said. Rather, it’s what’s happening in the neighborhood that sets students back: a lack of community support, complicated family dynamics and circumstances that leave students unsupervised after school.   

“It’s not the teachers’ fault or the parents’ fault. Sometimes, it takes individuals in the community to say, ‘Hey, maybe the parents aren’t at home as much as they can be because of work, so how can we kind of step in?’” he said. 

The organization also builds relationships with local businesses, hoping students can find a safe place to be after school or learn reading and calculations by grocery shopping, Jones said. 

Drayone Jones (in orange), executive director of the BE-MAD nonprofit organization, talks to students about community work Oct. 21, 2022, at Polytechnic High School. (Courtesy photo | Drayone Jones)

On a community level, BE-MAD offers financial literacy for the community to better understand economic development, Jones said. The nonprofit also helps previously incarcerated individuals to return to the community in a productive and positive way. 

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Ramirez has witnessed many elements that affect other students in the community. They could be struggling with mental health problems or facing food insecurity, she said. 

Hearing from college students and help planning for the future — those are resources she also didn’t have. Most of her friends in the community also didn’t, either, she said.

Jones could motivate the students in the community, he said, but he thinks they would respond better to college students who are closer in age.

It’s not just the academics. Jones also builds relationships with plumbers and electricians and brings them to community outings. 

“It goes back to the community, helping students understand, ‘Maybe I want to be in mechanical, CDL, HVAC, heating, or be plumbers or electricians,” he said.

In some ways, the work is personal for Jones. He has lived in the community for over 43 years — his parents have been there for 50. He and his wife, who was born and grew up in Poly, have three children. He has witnessed what he called “the good, the bad and the ugly” of the community. 

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“This community hasn’t had an identity for quite some time,” he said. “I want to give back to my community.”

Ramirez is in the process of applying to universities, she said. She’s not sure which school she wants to go to, but she feels more confident about the process now. She knows she wants to pursue what she loves. 

She’s majoring in film. 

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at dang.le@fortworthreport.org 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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