houston area women's center, at&t, and finding joy

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Some time ago, AT&T and Go Mighty asked me if I would be interested in spending $3500 on their behalf buying gifts for the benefit of a local charity.

"Interested"?  Um, to say the very least.  Yes, please.

So yesterday, armed with a fistful of AT&T gift cards, I headed over to a local AT&T store ...

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.... where I met Corey ...

 When I asked him if I could put his portrait on the internet, he assented, on condition that I make it clear to readers that he is neither Amish nor a direct descendent of Abraham Lincoln. Noted.

When I asked him if I could put his portrait on the internet, he assented, on condition that I make it clear to readers that he is neither Amish nor a direct descendent of Abraham Lincoln. Noted.

... who proceeded to fill my car with some of the coolest electronics I've seen in a long time.

 I felt like Santa Claus.  Except, you know, with a Toyota Yaris instead of eight tiny reindeer.

I felt like Santa Claus.  Except, you know, with a Toyota Yaris instead of eight tiny reindeer.

And then this morning, I headed over the Houston Area Women's Center shelter.

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Except the image above isn't a photograph of the shelter, it's of the center's headquarters.  But perhaps I should back up a bit.

The Houston Area Women's Center is a not-for-profit organization here in Houston dedicated to helping people who are affected by domestic and/or sexual violence find a way forward.  In addition to counseling and advocacy, they also have a shelter where women in crisis can go with their children in order to be safe, get back on their feet, and create a new, safer way of life.

And that shelter is where I went today.

The shelter is in an undisclosed location, and the facility is so unmarked and nondescript that I drove past it a few times before I realized where it was.  For safety and security reasons, I wasn't permitted to take any photos of the facility (understandably), but I will tell you that once I passed through security and entered, it was exactly as you would hope a shelter for people in crisis would be:  bright and light-filled, chock-full of art, and staffed with folks who clearly love what they do and are passionate about their work.

One such person is Pamela Ellis, who is the Director of Residential Client Services.

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If I have one wish today,*  it's that I hope that just by looking at her photograph, you can feel the warmth and sheer joy that radiates off of this woman.  She took me around the facility, and while she showed me the dorm suites, the cafeteria, the school facilities, the day care, the playground, and the residential career services centre (for heaven's sake!), she could barely get all the words out to describe the transformations in the residents and their families that she has witnessed, how proud she is of her staff, and her plans for the future.  And every time I complimented her on her work, she immediately deflected:  "It's not me," she kept saying.  "I work with some amazing people.  And the resilience and resourcefulness of the women who come through here will blow you away."

The tour ended all too quickly, to be honest, and when I left all of the holiday gifts that AT&T had purchased for the residents (and it was a lot) ...

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... I still felt like I wanted to do more.  Because when you see good people doing great things for others, you just want to keep helping, you know?

So thanks to Pamela, Frida, Cristina and all of the staff over at the Houston Area Women's Center who met with me today and shared your stories.  I'm so inspired by you and your work:  you fill me with such hope.  And hope, of course, is everything.

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(Before I close this post, I want to be sure to mention that if you're in the Houston area and you, or someone you know, is a victim of domestic or sexual violence, please call the Houston Area Women's Center Crisis Hotline at 713.528.2121 and get help.  Also, although the shelter is for women, the Center also counsels and provides services to men who are victims, as well.  So please don't hesitate to call.  Of course, everything you disclose to them will remain in strict confidence.)

If I had a second wish --and I think I do -- it is this:  one thing that the shelter is in dire need of is bath soap (and other toiletries, but particularly soap).  If you'd like to help, the next time you go grocery shopping, please feel free to pick up a few new bars of soap  (the standard size, please, not the travel size!), and send them to me, I'll happily get them to the shelter.  My address is:

Karen Walrond
Chookooloonks Media LLC
650 W. Bough, Suite 150-108
Houston, Texas 77024

I'd love to fill my little Toyota's trunk up with soap and drive back over there next month to give it to Pamela and the rest of her team.  So if you throw a few extra bars into your shopping cart, I know they'd be grateful.

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This is the part of my post where I'd normally include a disclaimer that this post is sponsored by AT&T and Go Mighty, but I want to be clear:  I didn't receive a dime or any sort of compensation to write this.  They asked me to do it, and I did it -- because when a large company chooses to be this charitable, everyone should know about it, you know?  Besides, visiting the shelter has been the highlight of my season.