Fort Worth Extends Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses, Dallas Should Be Next

Categories: Good Works

With a simple announcement in The Roundup, the city of Fort Worth's employee newsletter, Cowtown did something that is, for North Texas, pretty revolutionary. The city extended the same spousal benefits to everyone, regardless of the sex of their spouse.

"Since the city's retirement ordinance does not specifically define 'spouse,' surviving spouses in a same-sex marriage will be eligible for survivor benefits if the survivor can prove, through documentation, that they were legally married to the employee/retiree in a state where same-sex marriage is legally recognized," the announcement said.

And with that, despite a section of the Texas Family Code that seems intended to stop just this sort of thing, our neighbors to the west have used the latitude afforded them by United States v. Windsor -- the Supreme Court case that struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- to actually get something done.

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Prime Prep Recruit from Atlanta Returns Home as School Enters its Death Throes

Tara Stroud, left, felt comfortable putting her son Netori Johnson in the care of his coaches, but recently brought him back home.
Monday's news that Prime Prep Superintendent Ron Price is resigning at the end of January marked the beginning of the end (for real this time, we think) of Deion Sanders' troubled charter school. His resignation was followed with an announcement from state officials that the Texas Education Agency is appointing its people to oversee Prime Prep.

And now one of the parents who had enthusiastically sent her son from out-of-state to play football for Prime Prep has given up on the school, too. Netori Johnson, the Prime Prep football standout who was recruited from Atlanta to live in an apartment with other students and coaches, has moved back home, his mother said when reached on the phone yesterday.

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East Dallas' Promise of Peace Garden is Moving, and its New Neighbors Aren't Happy

It doesn't look so cute when it's spray-painted on your back fence.
The Promise of Peace Community Garden is in an awful location, shoehorned into a formerly vacant lot in a row of apartments and liquor stores just south of White Rock Lake, reachable only by a narrow sidewalk running along busy Grand Avenue. Nevertheless, the spot has served the garden's needs ever since it was established three years ago by school teacher Elizabeth Dry, who hoped that teaching the kids of East Dallas to grow their own food might help inspire a healthier future.

The location problem will soon be solved. As the Advocate reported earlier this month, Promise of Peace is in the process of relocating to a stretch of asphalt next to White Rock United Methodist Church. It's quieter there, away from the Grand Avenue traffic, and better suited for a community garden.

There's only one problem: Some of the neighbors aren't so happy.

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Jason Roberts' Friends Are Organizing a Kessler Theater Benefit to Pay Off His Cancer Bills

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The Fundrazr campaign Jason Roberts' ex-wife launched last month to help pay the mountain of medical bills that accumulated during his battle with cancer has raised $8,530, which is respectable but falls far short of the $40,000 goal.

So, Roberts' supporters are hoping to make up some of the difference with a benefit dinner/concert/art auction/bike ride that would make the Oak Cliff urban advocate proud.

The Build a Better Jason benefit is scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 25. It starts at Eno's before migrating by bike to the Kessler Theater, where there will be a concert featuring John Singer Sergeant of the Deathray Davies, Austin's White Ghost Shivers, R&B legend Bobby Patterson, and "a few more surprises."

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Jason Roberts Needs Help Paying His Cancer Bills

Dylan Hollingsworth
Last time we checked in, Oak Cliff urban pioneer Jason Roberts had an abdominal cavity filled with post-surgical fluid and was down to a single testicle, but he was otherwise upbeat after a successful battle with cancer.

The cancer is still gone. The pile of medical bills, it seems, are not.

Yesterday, Roberts' ex-wife Andrea (they had an amicable split) launched a FundRazr campaign to help cover expenses and "Build a Better (healthier!) Jason." The goal? A cool $40,000.

She explains the situation in her plea for help:

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Syrian National Coalition's First Prime Minister Used to Be Chairman of Garland Academy

Categories: Good Works

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Syrian National Coalition Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto
Ghassan Hitto, the man elected early Tuesday morning to become the opposition Syrian National Coalition's first prime minister, also happens to be a North Texan. The Damascus-born activist was educated in the United States, worked as director of operations at a Collin County telecom and, according to the dean of students, served in a number of leadership capacities at the Brighter Horizons Academy in Garland, an Islamic private school. Most recently he was the school's board chairman.

"In general, his first priority has been to make sure kids have the best possible education and learn how to become future leaders in the world," Brighter Horizons Dean of Students Akram Mutawe tells Unfair Park. "He works very, very hard, and he's a great leader. It doesn't surprise me or probably anybody else that he's in this position."

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Could This Be the Year that Texas Repeals its Sodomy Ban?

It's been a decade since the Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas, struck down the state's law banning sodomy and "homosexual conduct" as an unconstitutional violation of privacy.

Texas has since stopped enforcing the law, but not everyone got the memo. In 2009, two men were kicked out of an El Paso taco joint and threatened with criminal charges under the anti-sodomy law for kissing in public, resulting in a lawsuit against the city that was ultimately settled. Governor Rick Perry dismissed the Supreme Court's decision as the product of "nine oligarchs in robes." And Texas remains one of four states -- Oklahoma, Montana and Kansas being the others -- that still have unconstitutional gay-sex bans on the books.

"It has been used to harass, demean and discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation," says Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, a gay rights lobbying group in Austin.

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As Nationwide Drought Sears Hay Crops, North Texas' Ranch Hand Rescue Struggles

Categories: Good Works

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Ranch Hand Rescue
This guy made a full recovery.
When a farm animal comes to Bob Williams, it is dying of extreme neglect or violent abuse. Slowly, and through the beneficence of local veterinarians, foster families who offer up their pastures and the intensive care of Williams and his staff at Ranch Hand Rescue in Argyle, horses and llamas, goats and pigs get a shot at living out their remaining days in good health and relative comfort.

But with half of the contiguous United States in drought, it's getting harder and harder for the nonprofit. Hay prices have nearly tripled over the last year or so. Pastures have dried up and hay crops are yielding fewer bales. In Texas, though drought conditions have eased, plants' root systems haven't fully recovered after last year.

"The prices are just about as high as they were last year," Williams says. "We're paying $135 for a round bale, and we used to pay $35 or $40 dollars. It's a big problem."

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Two Blocks From Fair Park, a Group Hopes Rebuilding Bikes Can Help Build a Better Future

Categories: Good Works

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Kevin Mundy, left, and 16-year-old Damien work on a bike at the Empowered Pedals workshop.
It's the middle of a summer morning at Eban Village Apartments, and a half-dozen or so teenagers are gathered in the old leasing office of the nondescript complex two blocks south of Fair Park. A couple of them tool around on a bicycle stand, a couple more idle in a room crammed full of bikes, but, even though the carpet has been ripped out and the underlying concrete treated with sealant, this doesn't look much like a bike shop.

Yet that's what the old leasing office has served as since May, when Project Still I Rise launched Empowered Pedals, a sort of shop class, social entrepreneurship program and part-time job rolled into one.

The program is simple. People and bike shops donate old bikes. The kids, about a dozen so far, mostly from Eban Village, are taught to repair the bikes. The bikes are then sold, on Craigslist or whatever, and the kids keep two-thirds of the money, half going in their pocket, half going into a special savings account that can only be used for a car, a house, or college.

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