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'Sowing seeds for future generations': How Texas communities have changed two years into the pandemic

Jennifer Rangel and Victoria Ferrell Ortiz are co-founders of Rayo Panning, an urban planning advocacy organization in Dallas. The organization is coming up on its one year anniversary. "I hope that through the lives we touch that it's a reminder for everyone to be brave no matter what goes on in your life," Rangel said. "We are just growing, but we have a lot of faith."
Keren Carrión
/
KERA
Jennifer Rangel and Victoria Ferrell Ortiz are co-founders of Rayo Panning, an urban planning advocacy organization in Dallas. The organization is coming up on its one year anniversary. "I hope that through the lives we touch that it's a reminder for everyone to be brave no matter what goes on in your life," Rangel said. "We are just growing, but we have a lot of faith."

The past few years of the pandemic have shifted Texas neighborhoods, as both people and places have been lost to the COVID-19 virus. Close to 1 million people have died from the virus in the U.S. since March 2020.

Victoria Ferrell Ortiz remembers how unwell she felt when the pandemic started in 2020.

"I remember being in cycles of worry and concern for our community and thinking about how being stressed weakened my immune system," Ferrell Ortiz said. "That was a thing that was heavy on me. I was like, I need to stop being so stressed because it might increase the likelihood that I could become sick with COVID."

For Ferrell Ortiz and West Oak Cliff native Jennifer Rangel, the past two years have been times of transformation. Along with Evelyn Mayo, they founded Rayo Planning, a Dallas-based urban planning organization that centers community voices in development projects.

"I want people to be empowered and feel ownership of their neighborhoods," Ferrel l Ortiz said. "They're the experts, they're the barrio historians, because it's their experience that they're speaking to."

The organization is coming up on its one - year anniversary. Rangel sees her work as carrying on the legacy of her father, who passed away from COVID-19 in November 2020.

"I've always had the mindset of, I'm going to put my emotions to a good cause, and make something productive out of it," Rangel said. "Rayo Planning is that iteration of that ganas, that motivation, that resiliency, to move forward."

 Jennifer Rangel had planned to go to El Pueblo, a Mexican restaurant in Oak Cliff, in March 2020 for her birthday, but the pandemic changed her plans. "I should have been celebrating, but I was worrying," Rangel said.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA
Jennifer Rangel had planned to go to El Pueblo, a Mexican restaurant in Oak Cliff, in March 2020 for her birthday, but the pandemic changed her plans. "I should have been celebrating, but I was worrying," Rangel said.

Rangel's birthday is also in March. She's excited to get takeout from one of her favorite restaurants in Oak Cliff, El Pueblo, but still notices how the pandemic affects her comfort in community spaces.

"I'm really precautious," Rangel said. "I have a lot of resentment toward the virus. I don't know how I would cope if I were to have COVID. It's that fear of like, I have the thing that murdered my dad."

Throughout the grieving process, she's learned to ask for help from friends.

"I tend to become a turtle when I go through a hard time, and Victoria snapped me out of it," Rangel said. "I'm just so thankful for Victoria and friends like Evelyn who supported me when it was really tough."

Both Rangel and Ferrell Ortiz are excited to see how Rayo Planning grows in the next few years.

"What we're doing really is sowing seeds for future generations," Ferrell Ortiz said. "We may or may not see that fruit and plant come to fruition in our lifetimes. But we're keeping going, inch by inch."

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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