When you venture into the 4,000-home community of Lantana, you’ll look across lush countryside dotted with manicured lawns and burgeoning infrastructure, all woven together by clean streets. There’s also a good chance you’ll see Lantana neighbors Christy Wong and Kristine Hallingstad doing the dirty work to keep this piece of unincorporated Denton County pristine.
Wong and Hallingstad are members of Lantana Cares – a resident-empowered 501c3 organization dedicated to beautification, education, and recreation in the mega-subdivision of Lantana.
Wong started the organization in 2016 as a way to assist residents by creating a non-profit neighborhood group that works directly with the different entities that keep Lantana running – the homeowner’s association and the water district.
“I met with Bill Featherstone, and we realized that our community is unique,” Wong said. “We’re not really a town – we’re unincorporated – and we saw that different aspects of our community were being taken care of by different entities.”
According to Wong, the intricate structure of Lantana’s governing bodies led to communication challenges between residents and the service providers for the community.
“Everyone blamed the HOA,” Wong said. “There were lots of little things slipping through the cracks, entities were pointing fingers at each other, and there was just a lot of back and forth.”
Wong and a few other residents decided to take the initiative to address an eyesore of an empty lot that was littered with trash. What Wong didn’t expect was that the small project would evolve to become her own 501c3 charitable organization.
“It just turned into an ongoing thing,” she said. “We started reaching out to sponsors for cleaning supplies, volunteer breakfasts, t-shirts – stuff to inspire people to keep coming back. People started reaching out to us, and we got really involved with Earth Day.”
Some of the most notable projects Lantana Cares has spearheaded were the community clean-up after Music on the Green and beautification projects for Lantana’s new Community Event Center. In the coming months, the organization will play a part in installing a new splash pad feature at the community center.
Lantana Cares also works with schools, PTA leadership, and teachers to fund education initiatives. With the challenges of learning remotely, Lantana Cares introduced two pilot programs last fall: the Lantana Cares Tutoring Grant – a financial helping hand for students affected by the pandemic – and Teachers Pay Teachers class fund grants.
“With the pandemic, we saw an opportunity,” Hallingstad said. “We got a great response to our pilot programs. We’re able to pay for about 50 to 60 percent of tutoring costs for kids who have fallen behind or have struggled.”
Additionally, in the spirit of furthering its mission for education, Lantana Cares has also funded access to a digital collective called Teachers Pay Teachers. This provides teachers with the tools they need to teach in-person and online.
“It’s an online forum where teachers can get together to share resources and create assets,” Hallingstad said. “They’re really having to reinvent the wheel with teaching. It takes a little bit of stress off teachers so they don’t have to pay for access to assets out of their own pockets.”
Lantana Cares is paying for access to the Teachers Pay Teachers library of digital assets through March 2022. As of March 2021, over 60 teachers have
signed up for access.
As if a global pandemic weren’t enough, educators are also struggling with the aftermath of winter storms that devastated North Texas. Over 900 Harpool Middle School students were redistributed across five other schools after the middle school sustained severe damage in sub-zero temperatures.
“The freeze completely closed down Harpool Middle School,” Hallingstad said. “We wanted to make it easier for our relocated teachers, so we jumped in as quickly as possible and were able to distribute 70 $200 gift cards to help replace some of the supplies our teachers lost due to water damage.”
With over 30 years combined as residents of Lantana, Hallingstad and Wong are extremely familiar with the nuanced relationships upholding their community. They’re also familiar with how crucial these relationships are to their family, friends, and neighbors.
“We love this community and our neighbors,” Hallingstad said. “We want Lantana to remain a beautiful place to live where neighbors support education and the teachers who make a difference in our children’s lives.”
Wong emphasized that many of the projects they’ve completed may not be obvious or physically visible, but they will benefit Lantana for years to come and help the community on a broader scale.
“I’m really grateful to early sponsors for getting us going and for helping us realize our vision,” Wong said. “It just goes to show you how much people love Lantana and take pride in their community.”
photos courtesy of Rebecca Beer