On Saturday, Feb. 25, members of the Dominican Family in Houston engaged in a day of service. The organizing team presented four options for participation: 1) visit Angela House, 2) engage in outreach to day laborers, 3) learn more about the death penalty abolition movement, and 4) spring “cleaning” of the meditation gardens on the grounds of the Dominican Sisters of Houston.
Angela House was founded in 2001 by Adrian Dominican Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, with the mission “To provide, with sensitivity to the unique needs of women after their incarceration, a safe place where they can live, grow and become the kind of person they want to be.” Sister Maureen gave the history and the projection for the future of Angela House. Family members then worked at sorting donations of clothing arranging them according to size and use. Other shopped for needed items for the residents. According to Georgia Skopal, “It was a good morning for the five of us learning more about the purpose of Angela House and to get to know each other through story-telling and working together.”
Dominican family member Laura Boston welcomed other members of the Dominican family and several Jesuit volunteers to the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center, where she is executive director. Laura introduced the group to the function and activities of the center and to some of the issues day laborers face in Houston. Following Laura’s briefing and introductions, the larger group split into three groups. Visits were made to sites where day laborers gather to be picked up for work. Volunteers talked with the men waiting for work, distributed booklets describing workers’ rights and the activities of the center. They also interviewed many of the individuals. After a couple of hours, the group returned to the center to debrief about their encounters and to participate in a brief reflection framed by scripture readings. The members of the group found most of the workers to be very open, friendly and willing to share their concerns. Among the reported accounts of issues were the impact of family separation, the consequences of loss of job opportunities in their home countries, and harassment by police officers and others. While some workers report having been cheated out of their earnings, others described how grateful they are for work and how they are often treated fairly. Members of the group felt honored to meet these workers and be well received by them. They were moved by the ability to put faces and stories to the often featureless and common perceptions of immigrant day workers.
Dave Atwood, founder and former president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, gave a brief history of his own advocacy on behalf of the men and women on death row. One of the areas that Dave covered is the disparity in the system that disproportionately sentences the poor and people of color to death row. Dave discussed several cases where men have been exonerated and other cases where there are strong arguments to support the possibility that Texas has wrongly executed several individuals. Dave presented the group with various actions they can take to advocate for the end of the death penalty, including writing letters to newspaper editors and local and state representatives.
The fourth group spent the morning and into the afternoon getting the meditation gardens ready for spring. Family members were joined by sisters as they went about the tasks of giving the benches a fresh coat of paint, pulling weeds and planning fresh flowers. The power washers removed ground-in dirt from the sidewalks. After lunch, it was time to gather the oranges for the Dominican Sisters Marmalade.
All who participated in the events found them to be enriching experiences.
Story and photos submitted by the Dominican Sisters of Houston.