The Hope Welcome Center in Amarillo is on a mission to reach out to families of inmates in two area prisons of the Texas Correctional Institutions Division.
Opening its doors in 2005, the center provides a safe, clean and relaxing overnight stop at no cost to the families of inmates.
The dream of opening a center goes back to 1998, when Harold Scarbrough was director of missions for Amarillo Baptist Association. Paul Dunn, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Canyon, Texas, and a welcome center board member, felt led to bring the center to life. With the help of churches, Texas Baptist Hunger Offering funds with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, individuals and association donations, the Hope Welcome Center was built for about $250,000. Designed like a single-story motel, it has eight sleeping areas with four beds each, a dining room and a living area with video games.
The full kitchen is stocked with items that can be easily prepared. Families stay together and are not asked to share a room with strangers. Five restrooms, three showers and linens are provided.
“Through love and fellowship, the Hope Welcome Center has restored me emotionally and spiritually,” a woman who stayed at the center said. “I couldn’t afford to stop and eat along the way, but here I can sleep and have food.”
Families come from all over Texas and the Southwest, with some even traveling from overseas to visit family members. Many drive hours to see their incarcerated relatives or loved ones.
A good reputation
HWC has a good relationship with the prisons, which let families know about the center and recommend it as a safe place to stay. Often the guests are single mothers who come to see husbands; older children may stay at the center and babysit younger ones while the mother visits.
Due to a restriction by area motels and hotels, HWC is only open on weekends, from 3 p.m. on Friday to 1 p.m. on Sunday. Snacks, tea, coffee and a continental breakfast are offered.
“On Saturday evening, a meal is prepared by a host church,” Dunn said. “In this non-denomination setting, we sing hymns, have a devotion and prayer time.
“Several professions of faith have occurred, and 50 to 60 have rededicated their lives,” said Dunn, who added that the singing and devotional time is not mandatory but most guests participate.
Dunn shared about one young woman who stayed at the center. She commented, “I was embarrassed about my son being incarcerated. I had stopped going to church. But after coming to HWC, I felt the love and fellowship from the volunteers. Now I’m back in church.
“Prayer made a difference in my life,” she said.
An annual budget of about $30,000 covers utilities, insurance and other necessities. No one receives a salary — all work is done by volunteers from several area churches.
Don and Vickie Blankenship, both retired, are on-site directors of the property. They often make presentations to other churches to encourage them to become involved with HWC. The couple gives quarterly reports at Amarillo Association meetings. Five or six churches provide volunteers.
Volunteers are needed to prepare the Saturday evening meal and give devotions, Dunn said.
“Due to the limited number of volunteers, we can only provide one meal and one service,” he said. “We encourage a church to adopt a room, provide bed linens, mattresses, paint a room, donate cleaning supplies and purchase and maintain air conditioners or washers and dryers.”
Making a difference
Involvement with HWC, Dunn said, has given him a different view of the needs of the incarcerated.
“I see them as no different than we are,” Dunn said. “We are all sinners and need to be saved by the grace of God. You set an example, pray and turn the rest over to God.
“I believe pastors should give their church an opportunity to use people in volunteer ministries such as prisons.”
Due to COVID-19 and manpower shortages, visitations at HWC and the prisons have been limited. Once restrictions are lifted, HWC will again be at full capacity. But regular maintenance still is needed, along with yard work and grounds keeping.
For more information about the Hope Welcome Center and how you can help, click here.