David P. Gibson is a typical, 17-year-old high schooler with a not-so-typical passion. At night he likes to read Harry Potter and Immanuel Kant, play video games, and hang out with his friends. By day, he built and maintains a passion project he titled Juntos DFW while finishing up his school work.
Juntos DFW—whose English definition means a group aligned behind a common purpose—is a web-based map that helps immigrants and refugees easily find services throughout the region. It doesn’t require a login. It doesn’t comb visitors’ private data for targeted ads. The website makes no money.
Gibson, a homeschooled high schooler who lives in Lewisville, wants it that way. Juntos DFW functions as a landing page to lead people to organizations that provide critical services like ESL classes, healthcare, legal counsel, and work readiness training. The website’s goal is to make it easier for immigrants and refugees to find services without searching Google, avoiding having to sift through dozens of websites in a language that may not be their native tongue.
“We need to make these resources available to people,” Gibson said. “These resources are out there, they are just not well publicized to this population.”
The inspiration for the project came early in Gibson’s adolescence. When he was about 12, he watched as a family friend who was a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program struggle to navigate the legal process of fighting deportation. That moment helped him realize that the system of immigration and asylum status is far more complex than what many understand.
He began volunteering at Gateway of Grace, an organization that seeks to meet the “practical and spiritual” needs of immigrant and refugee families. He began teaching English and citizenship classes. Weekly interactions with migrant families helped him see similarities in what they were seeking.
“They would ask me simple questions, stuff like ‘can you help me find a dentist,’ it was stuff that a simple Google search should do,” Gibson says.
That request was real, and it helped the teenager realize that many immigrants and refugees face language barriers with Google. He helped that friend find a dentist that offered reduced rates for immigrants. Juntos DFW is a clearing house of similar service providers.
“People aren’t always able to find them,” Gibson said. “That means their lives don’t improve as much as they could.”
Gibson reached out directly to organizations and people involved in immigrant and refugee services, he said. Many of these organizations, like Gateway of Grace, now work directly with Juntos DFW, sharing space on a “Want to help” tab where visitors can directly donate to their causes.
Following the launch of the project in September, views on the website have continued to rise. In early November, Juntos DFW attracted more than 12,000 visitors, according to Gibson.
He aims to expand to other cities where it logistically makes sense, likely in southern Texas and southern California. However, he doesn’t want the initiative to be a national program run by adults in power and politics. He wants it to stay local and be operated by high schoolers. It should be unique to each community, serving specific, direct needs. Most important to him is that it is run by people his age, who still believe in the “idealistic” aspects of the world he feels the project requires to make a difference.
“If we portray refugees as non-actors, as being acted upon and not acting themselves like we do a lot of times in the news, then we will think of them that way,” Gibson said. “We will elect people who think of refugees that way. That takes power away from refugees, and it makes them villainized.”
Juntos DFW is Gibson’s attempt at making that ideal a reality for more Texans, no matter where they came from.