GRACE Opens New Doors Next Door
When GRACE opened its doors in 2002, our staff of one attorney and three volunteer interns were able to work comfortably out of a rented attic apartment not far from the jail. Over the next two years, as we grew to a staff of six, that cozy little space became cramped and overcrowded.
Looking for new space, we discovered that inner-city gentrification would push us out to the burbs if we remained renters. Thus we followed in the footsteps of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans, the Equal Justice Initiative in Birmingham, the Public Interest Law Clinic in St. Louis and the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, and launched a campaign to raise $75,000 toward a place of our own. Thanks to Tom Lorenzi, Bill Davis, Nancy Pemberton, Hough Southy, Hilary Sheard, Jill Norgren, Philippa Strum, Johnathan Hochhauser, and Chris Pyle, we raised $6,000 over the 2004 holidays and began the New Year by entering into a contract to buy two lots in the historic Sixth Ward, a few blocks west of the Courthouse and jail.
Our contract gave us just over 90 days to raise the remainder of our down payment. This effort was kicked into high gear by the incredibly generous matching funds challenge issued to our Board members by an Anonymous donor. Our Board rose to the challenge and personally donated $17,500, which the Anonymous donor doubled! Adding to this the donations by Richard Helyer, Nali Dinshaw, Jan Arriens, Dave Keefe, and Sean O’Brien, and we had raised over $42,000 by March, but were still far short of our goal until Steve Bright, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, stepped in to donate the stipend he received for teaching a capital punishment clinic at Yale. Steve’s $25,500 closed the gap, and we signed the papers on our new space in April!!!
2305 Union Street
2307 Union Street
The next priority was to fix up our little houses so that we could move in. Our new offices are located in two little old historic houses that, like many buildings in the Sixth Ward, had fallen into disrepair and dilapidation after years of neglect.
Before we could even move in, both buildings needed massive electrical and plumbing work, new roofs, central heat and air, cleaning, patching and painting, both inside and out. Not to mention carpet, desks, shelves, filing cabinets and other furniture. Through grants from the Butler Family Fund and the Riahann Foundation, as well as an ongoing commitment from Nali Dinshaw, we raised almost $20,000 for the repairs and improvements to our new home. But, the necessary repairs were estimated to cost almost twice that. Fortunately, we were GRACEd with a wonderful group of interns who (in addition to working on cases and office administration during the week) spearheaded the huge task of getting our space ready.
Through innumerable phone calls, faxes, emails, letters and visits, Scarlet Granville, Ruth Hamann, Hiltje VanderEnd, Marcella de Neve and Nadia Harrison begged, borrowed and charmed local merchants, trade unions and craftsman to provide deep discounts, materials at cost, and even free labor. GRACE is forever grateful to ICI Dulux, Calvin Speight and Plumbers Union Local #68, Gemini Plumbers, Carpet Mills of America, Capital Heating & Cooling, Garrick Roofing, The Detering Company, DAP, Chavez Electrics and Gerardo Chavez. (NEW PAGE)
Throughout May and June, the interns hosted a series of “barn raising weekends” in which they, along with volunteers from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and local members of Amnesty International cleaned, scraped, caulked and painted little houses, inside and out.
On Memorial Day Weekend, Members of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty finish washing and scraping the house in preparation for painting.
We spent most of June painting the place, both inside and out!
Finally, on July 1st, we moved in!!! GRACE is grateful for the time, effort and supplies (including vehicles) offered up by Bill Ohsie, John Montevideo, Hadeel Assali, Ahmed Bensouda, Suhas Sarathy and Lawrence Everett Twining III, as well as A-1 Latin Movers.
The move represents the largest investment in GRACE’s long-term viability yet. The move will save GRACE thousands of dollars a year in rent and allow us to take a huge leap forward in establishing financial self-sufficiency.
We have established a partnership with the Architecture Department at Prairie View A&M University to assist with a build-out that will connect the two buildings across their adjoining yards and provide more office and storage space.
GRACE extends a heart-felt thanks to everyone who helped us with this monumental undertaking!