For any leader, respect results in strength. That’s the motto that the Ferris Unity in the Community organization lives by.

Started over the summer by the Ferris Police Department, Unity in the Community is a citywide initiative between the city, school district, chamber of commerce, churches and other civic groups that organize efforts to benefit needy residents in their community.

“We’re big in community policing here in Ferris,” Police Chief Eddie Salazar said. “But some of the problems and the issues that we’re having here are more than what the Police Department itself can do.”

The organization held their first meeting over the summer. During the meeting, Salazar learned about some needs in the community that wasn’t being met.

“I found out in the school district, 82 percent of the enrolled students in the entire district are either at or below the poverty level,” Salazar said. “That’s huge. That’s not just the school district’s problem. That’s everybody’s problem. What can we do as a community to fix that? How can we fix that? How do we confront that?”

According to DataUSA, Ferris’ poverty level is at 19 percent – one of the highest in Ellis County. Salazar said that issues like that require a community effort to resolve and goes beyond what the police department can do by itself.

“There’s more victimization from people coming from a poverty level,” Salazar said. “They’ll become victims, or they’re more prone to commit a crime. If people think ‘Oh, I have nothing to do with that.’ Yes, you do. That’s everybody’s problem.”

A few activities Unity in the Community has participated in include partnering with the Ellis County Food Bank and local pantries to help feed more residents that are starving in the city. Salazar said the group also recently raised over $500 to give 3-4 presents to 19 children below the poverty line. They collected approximately 100 toys and still had 50 toys left over that they gave to Ferris ISD campuses.

Salazar said they’re also looking to collaborate with Southwestern Assemblies of God University to start a mentorship program for their students looking for internships and community service hours.

Salazar said he hopes these efforts build trust between city leaders and the community so they can resolve these issues together as opposed to individually.

“If somebody has an issue and they don’t know how to resolve it, they can come to us as a community and we’ll try to figure out how to take care of a community-wide problem,” Salazar said.

Even though Ferris is a small town, Salazar said it is growing. And with that growth in population comes a growth in need.

Salazar said he hopes this group and their continued efforts will help citizens in Ferris that need it most.

“I want some kid to come up to me 10 years from now and say you don’t know me, but you gave me hope when there was no hope,” he explained. “If I can do that just for one kid, that will make it all worthwhile for me. If I can prevent somebody from becoming a victim or a criminal, then I’m doing my part.”

“I know we won’t see a difference right away,” Salazar continued. “And I don’t know when we will. But I know we will eventually reap what we sow and see the product of whatever we put out there, and that’s what’s exciting to me.”

A board and president was recently elected to lead Unity in the Community during its meeting Dec. 13. Salazar said the board would meet again in January to discuss goals and initiatives the group wants to pursue in 2019.

“One person can’t make a difference," Salazar expressed. "It takes a combined effort. You’ve got to be able to bring in the entire community to make a difference.”

To get involved with Unity in the Community, follow their Facebook page @Unity in the Community-Ferris or email Salazar at eddiesalazar@ferristexas.gov.