Donor pledges $350,000 matching contribution for Burnet women’s prison chapel

Joseph's Hammer

Joseph’s Hammer board members Helen Kobak-Smith (left), Paige Lechler, Pam Stevenson, and Davey Haberer are spearheading a fundraising effort to build a chapel at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ellen Halbert Unit, a women’s prison in Burnet. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Joseph’s Hammer is closer to its goal of putting itself out of business.

The organization, which formed to fund the construction of a chapel at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ellen Halbert Unit, a women’s prison in Burnet, is hosting 25 Days of Prayer in support of the cause and celebrating a considerable matching fund opportunity.

A Silver Lining Prayer Service from 4-5 p.m. Saturday, February 29, at Lake Shores Church, 704 U.S. 281 in Marble Falls, kicks things off.

“We’re hoping to get a wide group of people from different fellowships to come together to lift up all our voices for the women,” said Joseph’s Hammer chairwoman Pam Stevenson. “We’re also going to pray for the chapel.”

During the 25 Days of Prayer, people are asked to pray for the women of the unit, their families, volunteers, staff, and the proposed worship center. Along with Joseph’s Hammer supporters, the Rev. Mark Cartwright of the Ellen Halbert Unit will attend the February 29 event.

Recently, a donor pledged a $350,000 matching contribution.

“That’s a tremendous thing for us,” Stevenson said.

Organizers hope to break ground on the Burnet women’s prison chapel sometime this year.

The Burnet facility currently doesn’t have a ministry center or chapel strictly for faith-based programs and worship. Community volunteers lead worship services and Bible studies in small, cramped rooms at the unit. Each year, about 1,200 women pass through the Ellen Halbert Unit as a substance abuse felony punishment facility. Stevenson explained that many of the women in the program are non-violent, first-time offenders who are struggling with substance abuse, whether that’s drugs or alcohol.

Along with the unit’s substance abuse programs, local churches and faith-based organizations help the women as they deal with the specter of alcohol and/or drug abuse. Research has shown that recidivism is much lower for women who go through the state program with additional support from faith-based programs. Part of that, Stevenson explained, is that, as their faith grows, they learn they aren’t walking through their struggles alone, that God is with them.

While the Ellen Halbert Unit leadership welcomes faith-based assistance, there really isn’t much room for worship services or Bible studies. The unit provides a space that holds about 90 women for regular worship services, but Joseph’s Hammer officials said they have about 350 who want to attend.

A separate worship center set aside just for chapel services and similar programs is what’s necessary, according to Joseph’s Hammer leaders. While the TDCJ would allow for such a facility on the unit’s property, the state doesn’t have the funds for it.

So Joseph’s Hammer has taken on that task.

“A lot of it’s been raising awareness and trusting God will do it,” Stevenson said.

Visit the Joseph’s Hammer website for more information or to donate.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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