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Galveston campus doubles shelter space for people in crisis

The Resource and Crisis Center of Galveston County will move to, consolidate and expand services at its new location, the city block at 1204 45th St. in Galveston, sometime in mid-July.

The move will bring together a shelter for women fleeing domestic and sexual violence situations; therapeutic services for children, women and men who are victims of intimate violence; and administrative offices of the crisis center, moving them from various places around the county to one central campus, formerly the property of the Catholic Archdiocese of Houston-Galveston.

“Domestic and sexual violence are community issues, something we’re all touched by,” said Selah Tacconi, executive director of the center. “Our organization raised awareness of the problem and the need for services in our community, and the community responded by making this possible.”

On a June morning, Tacconi pointed out some of the features that will make the new center a state-of-the art facility for people and families suffering the consequences and trauma of domestic and sexual violence.

The existing center operates a shelter with beds for 30 in a renovated house at an undisclosed location. At the new location, the center will be able to double that capacity.

“We’ll start at our current capacity and gradually build up, taking into account our adjustment to the new space and figuring out what we need as we grow,” Tacconi said. “We estimate 41 percent of people who call us are not accepted for lack of space.”

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS

Major construction is completed on renovation of the campus that once was home to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and school, and before that, a mission church serving Mexican-American Catholics and Spanish-speaking children, dating back to 1917.

Like many historic Galveston buildings, this one has weathered floods and hurricanes that left it in various states of disrepair over the decades. The campus functioned as a rental site for various nonprofit organizations until 2008 when Hurricane Ike put it out of commission. It has largely been fenced, chained and unoccupied since then.

In 2015, the Galveston City Council passed a zoning change that made it possible for the Resource and Crisis Center of Galveston County to purchase the campus from the Catholic Diocese. A capital campaign ensued that has raised $5.5 million and construction began in late 2017.

Alex Gonzalez of Galveston was the contractor on construction at the new site, a place he and his family have had close connections to for many years.

“I came here when I was a little kid,” Gonzalez said.

A security guard for the center was married in the old Guadalupe church, Tacconi said.

“There are a lot of community connections here, a lot of people with memories of this place.”

‘MIND, BODY AND SPIRIT’

A parking lot and central courtyard, all secure behind tall iron fences, separate what are now the two main buildings — the shelter and therapeutic services building to the south, formerly a school; and administrative offices to the north, formerly the church. A separate building houses the day care center, central dining hall and commercial kitchen.

Two older buildings were married into one with a large, open central lobby on the shelter side. A cement floor painted in swirling, shades of gray, epoxied over to a bright shine, will be the first thing new clients see.

“It looks like clouds, or a nebula, or whatever you imagine it to be,” Tacconi said. “We have given a lot of thought here to healing mind, body and spirit. These ladies have enough stress coming here.”

Soft gray shades are repeated throughout the dorm areas with shared rooms for single women and units for families that provide separate sleeping spaces for parent and children as well as a separate living area, all naturally lighted, with full bathrooms, and outfitted with ceiling fans.

“We surveyed the clients in our old shelter, asking what they’d like to see in the new space, and they asked for ceiling fans,” Tacconi said.

On the other side of the dorm building, therapeutic spaces are available for individual therapy, movement and art therapy, and a client resource room will be outfitted with computers for clients to use for job hunting, research and communication.

Staff offices and spaces for respite are scattered throughout the building, should an occasion arise, like a hurricane, when staff are required to shelter in place.

“We also want staff to have places to retreat and recoup,” Tacconi said. “It’s stressful work and we want this to be a great place to work.”

In the administrative offices building, Gonzalez adopted architectural features of the Spanish-style church and replicated them throughout, in some cases recycling building materials. Wood floors pulled up from the old school hallway, for example, were milled and fabricated into custom doors, warming the otherwise neutral rooms.

Areas for outreach and prevention, legal services, financial services and case management all reside along a hallway leading from a front entry area to the executive director’s area in the back. Both buildings have indoor play areas for children with large glass windows, making it easy to keep them under watch.

The administrative wing will provide largely non-residential services — referrals for therapy, legal work, case management — comprising about two-thirds of client services the center offers.

A certificate of occupancy has been issued and fire inspection completed.

“We’re still looking to the community for furnishings for the shelter and we’re still fundraising,” Tacconi said. “We’re still raising money for furniture, window coverings, kitchen items, bedding, all the things that will make it a home.”


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centerpiece
Juneteenth event marks Galveston's historic role

GALVESTON

For Galveston, Juneteenth carries particular significance.

“The history of Galveston is so rich,” island native Tommie Boudreaux said. “Because of what happened here, many people recognize it and they enjoy celebrating.”

Islanders gathered Wednesday morning at Ashton Villa for the 40th annual Al Edwards’ Juneteenth Prayer Breakfast to commemorate the day Union Army troops landed in Galveston, bringing news of the end of slavery.

The event is named for former state Rep. Al Edwards, who sponsored a bill establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1979, and is one of many celebrations around the nation remembering the end of slavery in the South.

Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed on the island June 19, 1865, bringing with him news that the Civil War had ended and slaves were free. Galvestonians marked the event Wednesday with a reading of the proclamation.

It’s a day that makes Boudreaux proud to be from Galveston, she said.

“It means a lot to me,” Boudreaux said.

Prayer breakfast organizers used Wednesday morning’s celebration as a time to reflect on the history of slavery in Galveston and on the events that led to the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the South, an event that took place in Galveston. The island’s Juneteenth commemorations have increased attendance since it began in the 1970s, they said.

It’s notable that the event has grown in popularity, Galveston District 1 Councilwoman Amy Bly said.

“This could not have happened even 50 years ago,” Bly said.

Sherman Boyer remembers when the event was much smaller, she said.

She helped organize some of the early Galveston celebrations and is glad to see many people attend, she said.

“It’s a blessing that they realize what Juneteenth is,” Boyer said.

Galveston’s always been a city that celebrated diversity, said Grant Mitchell, chairman and vice president of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

The foundation has been a sponsor of the island Juneteenth celebrations.

“This is a city that thrived in its best days not in spite of its diversity but because of it,” Mitchell said. “We are better off not just by bridging our differences. We are better off because of our differences.”

Galveston’s role in the national celebrations of Juneteenth gives islanders a particular opportunity to reflect on the importance of the event, County Precinct 3 Commissioner Stephen Holmes said.

“It’s a good time for us to not only reflect, but to look forward to the work we need to do,” Holmes said.

More Juneteenth celebrations continue this Saturday with a celebration at the La Marque Public Library, 1011 Bayou Road.


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Residents want answers on health of Galveston Bay

Recent industrial accidents in the Galveston Bay region — including a barge collision that caused a gasoline odor for days, and a fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s Deer Park facility that sent chemicals into the air and water — have one group seeking answers from state and federal officials.

“It seems like there’s been a real spike in these events, as best the public can tell,” said Doug Peterson, one of the organizers behind an upcoming forum called Local Pollution and Your Health.

“And if state officials were here, we’d ask them about it. What we want is more information about all the recent incidents, the ITC fire, the barge and ship collision, etc. There are just not a lot of details out there.”

Peterson is a member of the Houston Region Concerned Citizens group, which previously worked to help pass bond referendums in Harris County, and more recently organized forums in north Galveston County about the Army Corps of Engineers’ coastal barrier plan.

“It’s funny, in this kind of circumstance, you want more officials from public agencies involved,” Peterson said. “But they don’t want to be involved.”

Organizers reached out to representatives from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and several state legislators, but as of Wednesday afternoon, they have all declined to attend the June 25 forum, Peterson said.

“Due to the potential for litigation, we will not be able to attend,” said Ryan Vise, director of external relations for the commission, in an email provided to The Daily News.

Area organizers are asking questions primarily after a May collision led to more than 9,000 barrels of chemicals spilling into the Houston Ship Channel. Local, state and national officials have been working around Galveston Bay since May 10, when the 755-foot tanker Genesis River collided with two barges being moved by a tugboat, causing one barge to capsize and piercing another, which began leaking a feedstock blend called reformate similar to automobile gasoline, officials said.

After the collision, residents across Galveston County called local municipalities to report the distinct smell of gasoline.

But state officials in the aftermath of that incident cautioned residents that readings weren’t showing dangerous levels of pollutants.

“A lot of people are still concerned about what they were breathing for those couple of days,” Peterson said. “The industry just comes out and says everything is OK, but is that really resolving the issue?”

Preliminary data suggests chemical spills in Galveston Bay are happening about every six weeks, and local organizers are worried that such mishaps are becoming routine, Peterson said.

“It appears our capability of having safe operations is going down,” Peterson said. “But it seems like every day you pick up a business section of the newspaper and see the news that another $5 billion facility is being built.”

The barge spill came on the heels of another major setback for Galveston Bay. A tank fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co. in Deer Park spilled contaminants into the water back in March, and several chemical facilities suffered spills during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Peterson said.