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Women’s prison worship center groundbreaking Sept. 28 in Burnet

Davey Haberer and Mark Cartwright

Davey Haberer (left) of Joseph's Hammer and Chaplain Mark Cartwright of the Ellen Halbert Unit women's prison in Burnet reviewed plans for the proposed worship center in September 2020. Those plans are now about to become reality as Joseph’s Hammer prepares to break ground for construction Sept. 28. Courtesy photo

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the worship center at the Ellen Halbert Unit women’s prison are set for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 800 Ellen Halbert Drive in Burnet. Joseph’s Hammer, the nonprofit formed in 2018 to raise money and build the facility, will follow the ceremony with a reception at the Burnet County Rodeo Grounds, 1301 Houston Clinton Drive. The public is invited to both.

The Ellen Halbert Unit is a six- to eight-month rehabilitation program for addicted women who have been incarcerated or arrested while driving under the influence. About 1,100 women a year come through the prison each year. Three-quarters of them are serving their first prison term. 

Women at the center are often turned away from education programs due to lack of space. The new 8,200-square-foot worship center will have three large classrooms, a library-classroom, a chapel, a sports center, and offices for the chaplain and staff. Classes include Celebrate Recovery, Bridges to Life, Breaking Free, Grief Share, Experiencing God, Christian Parenting, and Search for Significance. 

The prison currently has no space for worship services. 

“Once we have the worship center, we’ll be able to have several large classes going on at the same time,” Joseph’s Hammer board member Pam Stevenson told in a past interview. “There is no dedicated place for them to worship. They deserve better. It’s a pivotal time in their lives. (God) will meet them there. I’ve seen it over and over. When they have a sparkle, it’s exciting to watch.”

Joseph’s Hammer set a goal of collecting 80 percent of the $1.2 million needed for the building. The group announced in December 2021 that it had raised $1.1 million.

The cost was estimated at $134 per square-foot. One of many fundraisers held by Joseph’s Hammer is the $67 to Heaven donation drive, which asks donors to contribute enough money for half a square-foot, or $67.