By Diane Holloway
The purpose of a fundraiser is to raise money, obviously, but Trinity Center’s Barbara Jordan Celebration also affords us the opportunity to honor people whose extraordinary service makes us who we are — purveyors of love and hospitality. The Pat Hazel Award, named after the beloved priest who spent many years as our spiritual leader, lets us raise our glasses and give thanks as we move forward in our mission to help our homeless neighbors.
We also will have the chance to eat, drink and be merry on Tuesday, April 25 at 5:30 in St. David’s Bethell Hall. Tickets are on sale NOW, so do not miss this awesome event!
Long overdue will be a salute to our founders, Diana and Doug Bell. We will also honor our amazing mother-daughter volunteer teams from the National Charity League’s Lake Austin Chapter, with Lorry and Avery Carlson accepting the award.
The Bells are our mother and father, the combined institutional memories of a service dreamed up in 1999 with modest goals and even more modest means. The plethora of services offered now were not on anybody’s radar way back then.
“Our first job is hospitality,” says Doug, a civil engineer who describes himself as “an avid extrovert.” “St. David’s made the decision to stay downtown in the 1960s, and there was sort of a clash of two cultures. Some of the suburbanites at the church were scared of the homeless, so we had two choices. We could build bigger doors and lock them out, or we could do something to bring them in. We chose to bring them in.”
Trinity Center was modeled after Lord of the Streets in Houston and named after the street it was supposed to face — not the Holy Trinity. The plan was to have the doors face Trinity Street, but the architects switched the entrance to 7th Street. Oh well, said the founders. The name remained.
Trinity Center started as a Sunday worship service and meal at Caritas. One of the Bells would ring a bell to alert neighbors, and 30 to 50 people would come. The basic Sunday menu of sausage and tortillas came from El Buen Samaritano, where it was a popular staple. Back then, the Bells cooked and brought the food from their home.
“We started slowly and figured out the programs needed,” says Diana, who has been involved in outreach programs her whole life — from crisis hotlines to Planned Parenthood to voter registration drives and precinct organization. “We really listened to what the neighbors had to say.”
At the beginning, Trinity Center was an all-volunteer group with no paid staff or social workers. There was food and some assistance, but the focus was on personal contact and caring.
“We weren’t there to fix people,” says Doug. “We were there to love them and serve hospitality. If they wanted help, we would try to do that, but the most important thing was — and still is- — to look them in the eye and make them feel loved.”
Diana and Doug, besides launching the Trinity miracle, have remained as volunteers. Until a couple of years ago, they both welcomed neighbors on Fridays. Diana gave up the weekly stint because of personal mobility problems and the terrible traffic on MoPac. Doug still comes Fridays and quickly moves from behind the desk to chatting with individual neighbors. Both Bells are fixtures at our annual Christmas party, decked out in their antlers and silly hats as they greet more than 200 grateful neighbors.
“I’m a hands-on person,” Diana says. “Doug likes to plan and get things going. I just want the people. They’re so friendly. I just feel like what they’re looking for is someone to listen to them – to see them. That means everything to them. You don’t have to have the food or the bus passes. They just want someone to talk to. Knowing them by name means a lot to them, too. And I think they like having a familiar face when they walk in – it helps them feel comfortable and accepted.”
The Bells say Trinity Center has become more than they ever envisioned. They continue to be amazed by the hopefulness of people who endure such hardship but come through the doors smiling. So what do they hope for us in the future?
“We don’t want Trinity Center to be huge,” Doug says. “We want it to be pretty much the same — a family and a community attached to St. David’s.”
“We want the neighbors to have the same feeling of warmth and hospitality when they walk in the door,” adds Diana. “Like we said, we want them to continue to feel respected and loved.”
Loving our neighbors — striving to serve them physically, emotionally and spiritually — will always be the mission of Trinity Center. Help us continue this sacred mission and honor our beloved founders. Get your tickets here!