Southern Dallas Thrives Tackles Education, Income and Health | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

Southern Dallas Thrives Continues to Tackle Education, Income and Health Disparities in the Southern Sector

Now in its third year, the United Way initiative has a firm footing for lasting change in the community.

Ashley Douglas feels passionately about her work. As senior director of the United Way Southern Dallas Thrives initiative, she leads the charge on creating a measurable impact and forward momentum in the city’s southern sector. She admits it’s a heavy lift—but she’s not going it alone.

“One of the most amazing pieces of the work that Southern Dallas Thrives does is the collaborative effort. There’s not one organization that can do all of what we do. It literally takes a village,” she says. “When we look at how Southern Dallas Thrives is set up—we have the philanthropic space, we have corporations, we have grassroots nonprofit and community organizations, we have community leaders, and we have the community residents—we have all the necessary components to create long-term, sustainable change in any community.”

Created in 2018 with The PepsiCo Foundation and Frito-Lay North America, Southern Dallas Thrives dovetails nicely with United Way’s Aspire United 2030 goals in education, income and health by working to improve the quality of preschool education, prepare high school students for college or careers, provide families with nutritious meals, and provide women with supportive services and workforce development training in high-growth industries.


Southern Dallas Thrives works to benefit students throughout their educational careers.

The lifelong benefits of early childhood education are well-documented, and high-quality child care allows parents to work outside the home. Southern Dallas Thrives’ First Five program aims to increase the overall quality of child care centers in the southern sector by providing training for educators and directors.

At the other end of the educational spectrum, the initiative collaborates with South Oak Cliff High School’s Collegiate Academy to increase graduation rates and promote career exploration. This helps ensure high school students are prepared for post-high school success at college or if they want to enter the workforce right after graduation.

Though it’s a bit early to judge the impact, Douglas says that prior to the collaboration, the Collegiate Academy had about an 87% graduation rate, “which sounds OK, but when you compare it to high schools in northern Dallas, where you see 97% and 98% graduation rates on average, you see there is a high disparity.” In 2020, however, 100% of Collegiate Academy students earned diplomas—roughly 40% of them also earned training certifications or associate degrees.


United Way also has robust workforce equity efforts already underway. This spring, Southern Dallas Thrives will launch a program in the southern sector that will help women tap into well-paying, male-dominated industries and solidify the kinds of long-term career paths that sustain families. “This will be a critical piece in creating workforce equity,” Douglas says about the program, which will focus on Black and Latinx women. “If women don’t have access to good jobs, that affects the whole household.”

The goal, Douglas says, is to ensure that women are prepared not only with job training but also with soft skills training and wraparound services, such as food, quality child care, and rent and utilities assistance, while they are training. “It’s a really holistic approach to equipping women for career success,” she says.

“If women don’t have access to good jobs, that affects the whole household.”


That the southern sector is a food desert is a well-known problem. Southern Dallas Thrives makes considerable efforts to increase access to fresh, healthy food. The last 12 months—with both the COVID-19 pandemic and last month’s harsh winter weather that disrupted many aspects of life for a week or longer—brought an increase in need. However, the solution has to go beyond emergency response, Douglas says, and it starts with understanding the origin of the problem.

Knowing the history of Dallas and how the southern sector came to be a food desert is critical to addressing the issue. “We are having those conversations a lot more openly and talking about the problem in a more realistic way,” Douglas says. “When we know why, we can create long-term and sustainable solutions.”

In 2020, Southern Dallas Thrives served more than 60,000 meals in collaboration with Food for Good and provided food resources to more than 2,500 southern Dallas residents. That effort is ongoing, and a big part of boosting that number is exposure, Douglas says.

Also in the works is a pilot that will bring a pop-up grocery store and grocery delivery to the area. “If we can’t have a grocery store in southern Dallas, we need innovative new ways to get food to families,” Douglas says.


Southern Dallas Thrives is one of the many ways United Way works to improve education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity. The initiative is a long-term effort to solve a longtime problem, making it a perfect opportunity for generous, passionate and determined change-seekers like you to get involved.

When you donate, volunteer or advocate through the United Way, you become part of the collective power of community to create lasting change that makes a better North Texas for all.


Daughter on shoulders of father Live United


Daughter on shoulders of father Live United

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is a community-based social change organization that puts opportunity in the hands of all North Texans. Working with our determined supporters, we lead the charge to improve education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity. We invite all change-seekers in our community to Live United to achieve lasting results right here at home.

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This article was published on: Mar 11, 2021