Tackling Poverty in Tarrant County: Q&A With Mike Doyle of Cornerstone Assistance Network

We’re back with our monthly Q&A series where we sit down and chat with nonprofits who are transforming the lives of people in our community.

Recently, we had the honor of working with Cornerstone Assistance Network—an organization that takes a comprehensive approach to help our neighbors in need. Today, we’re talking to Mike Doyle, founder, president, and CEO of Cornerstone to learn more about how they’re helping people get back on their feet, and how you can help too.

Would you give me a quick overview of Cornerstone Assistance Network and what y’all do?

Cornerstone Assistance Network has two primary goals: first, to provide services to individuals struggling with poverty in our community, and second, to provide resources to churches and organizations who are also serving people in need in their own communities. 

How did Cornerstone get started?

Really, it started out of a desire that God gave my wife and me to do something more substantial for the poor. We learned that a family in our church went hungry over a weekend. I spoke with our pastor, Phil Simmons, about how the church could reach families in need to prevent this from happening again. We formed in 1992 and started with a $30,000 gift from North Richland Hills Baptist Church.

Now, we have hundreds of churches, organizations, and volunteers who are committed to helping others in this ministry of service.

What types of communities do you help?

All of them (laughs). No, but to be more specific, we help people who are struggling with poverty. We work on a referral basis and don’t really offer walk-in services (except at our medical clinic).

Any of the people that go to the churches or non-profits in our network have to meet the income guidelines. It’s usually 250% of the federal poverty level or less. As long as they meet the income criteria for the programs we have with our partners, we can help them.

What challenges are Cornerstone trying to address?

We’re just trying to meet the needs of the people that are sent our way in whatever way possible. We take a holistic approach to cover whatever needs they may have—whether that’s offering clothing, medical care, or food for their family.

There’s just so much need within our communities that we have to work with our referring agencies and network partners so that together we can do the best we possibly can for the person needing help.​​​​​​​

It seems like Cornerstone tackles poverty from a lot of angles. Can you tell me about the different ways you help impoverished people get back on their feet?

Yes, there are A LOT of things that we offer. And, again, when someone is referred to us, they may need food, clothes, jobs—whatever it may be—but once they’re referred by a partner, they can utilize all of our services.

In this building alone, we have: a small food pantry; a thrift store that the public can visit and shop at, but is free to the referrals of our partners; we have case managers, so if you’re referred by the schools that we partner with, we can help the families in those areas; we offer medical services, like cataract surgeries and dental; we do counseling; we offer GED and ESL courses. So, we do a lot of things just here out of this building.

And of course, we offer housing, but our housing properties are remote.

And not everybody needs everything of course, but after our case managers assess the needs of the referrals, then we’re able to plug those individuals into our services or the services of agencies that we partner with. We’re just trying to do the Lord’s work as best as we can, however, we can.

Can you tell me a little more about the Dental Clinic program?

We have a full-time dentist, two dental assistants, one hygienist, an office manager, a receptionist, and five chairs. So, it’s truly a full-service, full-fledged dental office.

The people we work with need extensive dental help. To give you an example, it normally takes about 40-45 minutes to clean someone’s teeth. It takes two and a half hours to clean the teeth of the people that come into our practice because it’s been so long, especially if they’ve been in prison. We’ve really got to allocate a lot of time to clean their teeth, so the dentist can see what other services they need to provide.

We started our dental service program in July 2020, and in our first year of business, we provided $1,300,000 in free services. I mean, we were already at a 100% capacity just in that first year alone.

So, it’s been really nice when businesses like Smile Fort Worth step in to help. They worked with some of the men in our program and provided free dental care. I mean, addressing dental needs may seem small in comparison to other health issues, but dental work can be life-changing. No pun intended, but Smile really helped them get their smile back. And that type of renewed confidence is a big step to helping them get back up on their feet.

Are there any success stories you’d like to share about people Cornerstone has helped through its various programs?

There are a lot of them, but to circle back to the dental program, there’s something in particular that really stands out.

See, I serve on the Workforce Board in Tarrant County as well, and we do a lot of job training programs there. What we didn’t expect to see as an outcome of the dental clinic was that now these people can actually look somebody (like a hiring manager) in the eye and smile, without worrying about gaps or rot in their teeth. So, it’s really the best kind of job assistance we offer.

The great thing is that we’ve gotten about forty felons jobs just because they can smile and look at people, which makes them successful in the job interview.

What are some ways people can get involved and help?

Like any nonprofit, we can always use money. But if they can’t give money, we ask that people pray for us. And in some cases, we can use volunteers.

We used to have a lot of community service workers answer the phones and greet people, but because of COVID, we have slots there that aren’t being filled. So, those kinds of opportunities are always available for anybody who’s looking to help.

If you’re interested in learning more about CAN and ways to get involved, visit their website.

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