By Diane Holloway
On Tuesday, April 26th, we will host The Barbara Jordan Celebration – raising our glasses and paddles at our major fundraiser of the year. We will also bestow our Pat Hazel Award on two amazing people, Alan Graham and Ellen Dorsey, whose service to our homeless brothers and sisters is quite simply extraordinary.
But first, say hello to our honorees, who will receive the award created in memory of Father Pat Hazel, beloved law professor and revered priest. To our downtown homeless neighbors, he was known for his perpetual smile and unconditional love. When Father Pat celebrated Eucharist at Trinity Center, it was truly a celebration!
The visionary genius behind Mobile Loaves and Fishes and Community First Village, Alan is a legend for his compassionate approach to solving a major societal problem – chronic homelessness.
“We have a saying at MLF that housing will never solve homelessness, but community will,” he said recently, dismissing the label “revolutionary” that many have used to describe the bucolic 27-acre master-planned village East of downtown Austin. “There’s a deep desire to live in community. That used to be the way we lived. God created us that way, and we’re just bringing that to the surface.”
Alan’s extreme makeover — from a successful career as a real estate developer to devout server and advocate for people experiencing homelessness — started with what he describes as an intellectual relationship with Jesus that turned into “an encounter with the Holy Spirit” at a retreat. He came away with a burning desire to feed and care for the less fortunate among us, to actually live the Gospel. Two years later he was serving food out of trucks in Austin.
The product of a “phenomenally dysfunctional family,” Alan left home at 17, got a job and eventually worked his way through the University of Texas. Along the way, he worked with mentally challenged kids.
“Maybe my DNA was different, but I love a challenge,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m attracted to people who have had very deep battles, and yes, it’s an absolute calling.”
The challenge of providing affordable, sustainable, supportive housing for more than 200 chronically homeless people has indeed been a challenge, but mini-houses, tents and trailers at Community First are currently being filled with a new kind of family.
“The goal is to create a sense of family – and to transform how people view the homeless,” Alan said. “It’s the recognition that we believe that all of our brothers and sisters had a profound and catastrophic loss of family. That’s the common denominator. It’s up to you and me to be there for them, not to abdicate to City Hall or the State Capitol or Washington, D.C. This is our issue. These are human beings.”
Every Tuesday and many Sundays we find Ellen loving and serving our neighbors. She’s a member of that elite group of volunteers who have been with Trinity Center from the very beginning – since 2000, when she and daughters Elizabeth and Emily served at Trinity Streets, the worship service that started everything.
“My kids always liked the neighbors, so we did Streets together,” Ellen said, modestly ruling over Trinity Center’s kitchen one Tuesday. “I realized pretty quickly that this is my place. It just sort of felt like home right away.”
And she had the privilege of knowing the beloved priest whose name is on her award, Father Pat Hazel.
“I just knew him from church, but my girls loved him,” Ellen said.
A member of St. David’s Church and current member of Trinity Center’s Board of Directors, Ellen taught Sunday school and catechesis. When she’s not taking care of her own family or our neighbors, she teaches at Westminster Presbyterian Day School – after spending her pre-mom years as a Montessori teacher. While studying education at the University of Texas, she met her architect husband Jim Susman.
Ellen enjoyed her Sunday Streets volunteering so much that she eventually became a regular on Fridays, our movie-and-popcorn day. Affectionately known as the “Popcorn Princess,” she also made the coffee.
“I was a machine!” she said laughing.
In 2008 she added Tuesday kitchen duty to her popcorn fun, but after a couple of years doing both days, she decided one weekday – plus several Sundays a year – was enough for her busy schedule.
On Tuesdays, Ellen wheels around the kitchen preparing and serving breakfast for 45 to 55 women – usually flying solo. After cleaning up from breakfast, she sets out and serves the salads and sandwiches for the mid-morning snack. Again, usually by herself.
“I sort of love it, and I love the women,” Ellen said. “I know that if I hadn’t had the past and the opportunities that I did have, this could be me.”
Ellen’s impact is all over Trinity Center, from her dogged effort to get rid of environmentally unfriendly Styrofoam coffee cups to her annual creation of our glorious Dia de los Muertos altar – which gets more elaborate and beautiful every year.
“It’s just my place, and I love the people here,” she says with a shy smile and a shrug.
(Diane Holloway is Communications & Volunteer Coordinator for Trinity Center.)