As many organizations have done during the COVID-19 crisis, Blue Zones Project has pivoted from its more traditional work to projects that align with immediate and emerging needs in the community.
Blue Zones Project, now under the umbrella of Texas Health Resources’ North Texas Healthy Communities, is a community-led well-being improvement initiative based on creating permanent and semi-permanent changes to man-made surroundings that impact lifestyle and culture. Since March, however, Blue Zones Project has been focused on meeting the pressing food and health concerns of Fort Worth residents.
Vice President Matt Dufrene outlined some of the ways the organization has adjusted in recent weeks:
Engagement efforts have gone virtual, and staff members are deploying new online tools and resources.
The organization has made extensive use of social media to support community and partner needs. Topics include family support resources, engagement for children, downshifting and mental health activities (such as its 10@10 segments), and information about community resources, with an emphasis on food and other emergency needs.
Blue Zones Project has implemented extensive emergency support for broad community food insecurity efforts. This includes immediately shifting resources from programming to responding to community needs.
The organization has provided volunteer, in-kind and financial support, primarily focused on food insecurity. Blue Zones Project has provided financial support for 2,000 meals for 1,200 families affiliated with the Boys and Girls Club; expedited purchase of a commercial refrigerator purchase for LVTRise to support emergency food distribution; provides ongoing assistance with volunteer food delivery; and continues to support two Healthy School Pantries. Additional support has been committed to mobilize grocery bag distribution in targeted ZIP codes, providing 3,600 bags over the next four weeks.
“Blue Zones Project now has over 350 partner organizations across Fort Worth, and tens of thousands of individuals that we regularly engage with,” Dufrene said. “We know that many of these organizations, families and individuals are facing increased struggles as a result of COVID-19. We want to continue to support our diverse community from a health and wellness perspective while being especially responsive to acute food access needs.”
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra has canceled the 30th anniversary season of its Concerts in the Garden series due to COVID-19 concerns and in accordance with city and health professionals’ recommendations.
The summer music festival had been scheduled to present 15 evening performances in June and July at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens.
In addition, Performing Arts Fort Worth has canceled performances at Bass Performance Hall until a date to be determined.
Patrons with tickets to canceled performances have the option to place the value of their tickets as a credit on account for use next season, donate them back as a tax-deductible donation or receive a refund.
To learn more, contact the symphony box office at 817-665-6000.
Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a proclamation extending his disaster declaration for all Texas counties in response to COVID-19. Originally issued March 13 and extended April 12, the disaster declaration provides a number of resources as the state continues to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The City of Fort Worth’s disaster declaration is also extended for an additional 30 days, until June 11, to ensure it is in compliance with in conformance with the statewide declaration by Gov. Abbott.
View the governor’s proclamation.PDF File
“As we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, our top priority remains the health and safety of all Texans,” Abbott said. “By extending the disaster declaration, we are ensuring that Texas has the resources and capabilities in place to safely and strategically open the state while containing the spread of this virus. As we move forward in our response, I urge all Texans to continue following the health and safety guidelines laid out by the CDC and Texas’ team of medical experts.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will award $748,234 to Fort Worth Housing Solutions to support its work in assisting Fort Worth residents through HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. These funds come directly from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the third coronavirus relief package signed into law.
“Many public housing agencies on the frontlines of ensuring that all in our communities are safe and with shelter have seen their own resources impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, as have the low-income families, seniors and those with disabilities who they serve,” U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth said.
“I’m happy to see that the Housing Authority of Fort Worth (now Fort Worth Housing Solutions) is receiving nearly $750,000 to help support the health and safety of the individuals and families receiving assistance through HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. These grants will provide the Housing Authority of Fort Worth with the added resources it needs to keep our most at-risk populations healthy and safe throughout these trying times.”
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department has awarded the City of Fort Worth more than $6.8 million to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds may be used for a variety of services including emergency rental assistance, homelessness prevention, employment-related services to reduce poverty, and services to the elderly and those with AIDS.
The city will allocate funding to nonprofit agencies so they can meet residents’ urgent food and shelter needs as quickly as possible. A portion of the funds will be awarded to these partners immediately; the remaining funds will be awarded to additional nonprofits through a competitive request for proposals process. Proposal packets will be available online beginning May 11.
Help will be available to all areas of the city. To allow Fort Worth to begin using funds quickly, the federal government has waived the customary 30-day public comment period. Submit your comments by May 9 to Sharon Burkley.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act helps local governments respond to impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency. It includes additional grant funds under the Community Development Block Grant, Emergency Solutions Grant and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS programs. All funds must be used to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus.
Fort Worth’s Neighborhood Services Department will oversee allocation of relief funds.
Fort Worth businesses that closed due to COVID-19 will not be required to apply for or obtain a new certificate of occupancy or a new health inspection before they are allowed to reopen. As long as the business and the owner/tenant remain the same, the business will not need a new certificate of occupancy.
However, if the business’s power had been shut off, a new electrical inspection/release may be required to resume operations. To learn more about ordinance permits for power reconnection, visit the Development Services webpage or call 817-392-2222.
The Consumer Health section will assist residents free of charge and can conduct a brief walk-through at reopening businesses. To schedule a walk-through or to learn more, contact a health inspector or 817-392-7255.
Though the stay-at-home order is being lifted for Texas and many local businesses are opening with 25% occupancy, the Development Services Department will continue to schedule appointments through video technologies, phone, email and electronic documentation. Person-to-person appointments are not being scheduled at this time as staff implements its workplace transition plan.
For all general questions related to business reopenings, call Customer Service at 817-392-2222 or send an email.
A message from Mayor Betsy Price
To the businesses and establishments of Fort Worth,
As your mayor, I know that our fight against the spread of COVID-19 has led to unprecedented circumstances, and that so many of your businesses and organizations are facing unforeseen challenges and difficulties. As a former small business owner, I recognize that you are working hard to balance the needs of your businesses, your employees and your own families. On behalf of the City of Fort Worth, I thank you for all you have done to prioritize the health and safety of our community. Fort Worth is a compassionate city with great promise, and we will not let this pandemic diminish our values of hard work, resiliency and perseverance.
On April 27, Governor Abbott issued an order that now supersedes local orders and restrictions, thereby beginning a phased-in re-opening of businesses. The City of Fort Worth will continue to work with the governor’s office to ensure that his phased approach is executed thoughtfully in Fort Worth. You can find the governor’s current order here.
The City of Fort Worth stands ready as a resource for you as we work to meet the challenges of the days ahead. In that spirit, the city’s Code Department has worked closely with Fort Worth’s Committee on Re-Opening the Economy (CORE Team), comprised of local business and community leaders to establish a set of helpful guidelines and recommendations as you work toward re-opening your business or establishment. To be clear, these are guidelines – not requirements – that are outlined to help you think through what it means to live, work and play responsibly during this time.
If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 817-392-8478 or via email.
Thanks for doing your part to keep Fort Worth safe, healthy and ready.
Resources for Reopening document
Dr. Debbie Cockerham was awarded the prestigious 'John Cotton Dana Award for Leadership' by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Unlike the other awards that are given annually by AAM, this award is only given when merited, and the judges, all of whom are leaders in the field of museum education, unanimously felt that Dr. Cockerham was deserving of this honor. Based on the totality of an individual's career, this award recognizes an individual, other than someone working directly with museum education programs, for efforts on behalf of public education and community service. One judge wrote: "Debbie has quite an impressive track record and her work as a researcher and mentor to researchers is impactful for museums and the field. This work is crucial for museums to grow and change to meet the needs of current and future audiences, as well as to be impactful and relevant for visitors."
Dr. Cockerham is the founding and current director of the Research and Learning Center (RLC) at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History (FWMSH). The RLC is at the intersection of research and education through interactive collaborations with university scientists, allowing guests to learn and actively experience the production of new knowledge. University researchers collaborate with Dr. Cockerham to clarify their questions, methods, and findings, then conduct their studies within the museum where they recruit guests as participants and interact with them in a relaxed setting. Guests learn from the scientists, and the research adds a new layer to the guests' learning experience. Van A. Romans, FWMSH President, says of Dr. Cockerham, "The RLC has quietly grown into a recognized program that has impacted so many researchers and guests. It takes a passionate, talented person to make that happen and I'm so proud that Debbie is that person!"
Dr. Cockerham exemplified collaboration through authentic relationships, meeting extensively with each researcher. She served as mentor as they navigated the research process and often struggled with communicating effectively to a lay audience. She stayed by their side through the study and, in some cases, co-authored their research. One researcher, and founding university partner, described the RLC as a "town square for the community with Debbie as the heart and center of the square." Debbie connects researchers with one another, creating collaborative research groups and hosting Poster Forums. Dr. Cockerham's genuine interest in researchers as people brings many guests back to the RLC.
Under Dr. Cockerham's leadership the RLC grew to encompass 11 universities and over 70 researchers, many of whom have returned for multiple studies. Since inception, 17,600 guests have participated with an additional 17,970 educational interactions about the process. Dr. Sarah Hill, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at TCU, said of Dr. Cockerham, "I have had the pleasure of working with Debbie to collect data on children's eating behavior at the museum. She is a tireless advocate for making science fun and accessible to everyone who enters the museum."
She is also a devoted activist for children with autism spectrum disorder, having spent 24 years as a special education educator. Debbie built a council of local experts, created an ongoing series of workshops for families and developed and implemented Sensory Aware Saturdays, events funded by local foundations that allow families with children on the spectrum to benefit from their private visit to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The evening features sensory modifications and opportunities for families to connect with important support services. Over 1,300 guests have participated in these programs in the last four years.
Normally, Dr. Cockerham would have received this award in front of colleagues from across the country at the awards luncheon held at the AAM conference in San Francisco in May, which understandably had to be cancelled.
Fort Worth-based Ben E. Keith Foods launched a direct-impact effort to support and raise awareness for restaurants, the food service industry and local communities.
Eat Local. Eat Often. encourages continued patronage both during the COVID-19 pandemic (through curbside pickup, delivery and takeout) and beyond during recovery. Eat Local. Eat Often. supports the sustainability of the restaurant industry.
“Eat Local. Eat Often. is an initiative in support of the restaurant operator. They are a key part of our business, but even more importantly, they are a key part of our society and our culture in this country,” said Mike Sweet, president of Ben E. Keith Foods. “When we move beyond this shelter-in-place environment and businesses begin to reopen, we know it will be a different landscape, and one in which we will need to support our industry more than ever. And there is no better way to support that than Eat Local. Eat Often.”
As part of Eat Local. Eat Often., customers are encouraged to order takeout from a local restaurant, pick up a meal curbside or purchase a gift card to use in the future. Each of these actions helps preserve the restaurant industry.
As Gov. Greg Abbott rolls out his plan to open Texas following the COVID-19 pandemic starting May 1, the City of Fort Worth’s Economic Development team is sending out a follow-up survey to local business owners to assess the state of their business six weeks in, and identify additional ways to help.
The results from the original Business Survey, which launched in March and generated more than 1,000 responses, led to several outcomes that the city has taken already to provide assistance to area businesses:
According to the original survey results, the most significant challenges to businesses across industries are revenue/cash flow, rent/lease expenses, payroll and debt concerns. As a result, these became some of the key focus areas on the city’s Business Resources page.
The city’s Business Resiliency Microloan program was also launched to help address revenue/cash flow challenges and assist with covering expenses.
The city’s Loans & Grants page has been updated regularly with opportunities that span a wide range of industries, from small businesses, to women- and minority-owned businesses, to restaurants and creatives. It also provides information on SBA loans and the Paycheck Protection Program.
Businesses that participated in the first survey have also been contacted by the city via email with updates as soon as new resources and programs have become available.
The goal of the city’s new survey is to assess the impact that the past several weeks have had on businesses’ revenue and staff size, assess businesses’ ability to pivot to online or remote operations, and learn what resources businesses applied for in hopes of obtaining financial support (and whether or not they were eligible or aware of such programs).
Business owners in Fort Worth are encouraged to take the follow-up survey, now available at fortworthtexas.gov/covid-19-business-survey.
“As businesses in Fort Worth start to reopen, it’s important that we understand where they are now,” said Robert Sturns, the city’s economic development director.
“Some businesses have been pretty creative in working to maintain operations, some might still be closed, and some might be in transition or somewhere in between. Either way, business operations will be impacted, and their employees will be affected, and we’re trying to determine where some of those stress points are so we know where we should focus our efforts.”
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