Forest Forward Aims to Raise $75M+ for a Thriving South Dallas

Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church supports through donations, volunteering

A group of Dallasites are working to raise $75.215 million to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in the 75215 ZIP code of South Dallas.

They are doing so through the Forest Forward movement, which has raised more than $50 million so far.

The nonprofit, started by Elizabeth Wattley in 2017, has a mission to restore the Forest Theater and ignite a healthy and thriving South Dallas through education pathways with Dallas ISD’s Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy, employment opportunities, and mixed-income housing developments.

“Although the Forest Theater in South Dallas has served as a proud beacon of hope for decades, its history and significance is unknown or often forgotten by many,” Wattley said. “Restoring this historic treasure to its full potential … is a good-news story for everyone living in Dallas and North Texas.”

Matthew Ruffner, senior pastor at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, has been involved as a board member since 2020.

“Forest Forward is a way that allows me to invest in seeking to help in making my life count, so those in our community who have had their voices silenced for many years can come to know a full and abundant life that we all deserve,” Ruffner said.

Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church has been involved in the project since its 2017 inception through monetary donations and hands-on engagement with the MLK Arts Academy engineering program.

“We certainly support financially, but you know, Bryan Stevenson says, ‘Unless we show up and we are proximate with one another, then nothing changes,’ and so for us, it’s a great privilege to share in this work together,” Ruffner said.

Ruffner describes breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty as a cocktail with multiple essential components, rather than a single-bullet solution: “It’s so exciting to be part of a project that is proven, replicable, and able to invest in housing, education, and community wellness.”

“It’s been a great privilege for Preston Hollow to be on the ground floor of this project because we believe that no one should live in the deadly cycle of intergenerational poverty, that everyone should have access to housing, that everyone should have an education that allows everyone to thrive,” he continued.

Forest Forward also had an exhibit in NorthPark Center earlier this fall, which Ruffner hopes educated others about the theater’s history and legacy while inspiring the community to get involved.

Ruffner looks forward to a future where an MLK Arts Academy student will be able to perform a song they wrote, on an instrument they learned at the academy, on the stage of the Forest Theater.

“What I love about this project is everybody has a place … and this project does reveal that we’re better together and when we live like we belong to one another, the byproduct of that are communities that we are all proud of,” Ruffner said.

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