Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Good to be Small

(AP) Nearly nine months after the earthquake, more than a million Haitians still live on the streets between piles of rubble. One reason: Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived. At fault: bureaucracy, disorganization and a lack of urgency.

Because Paper Houses Across the Border remains a small charity, we remain efficient, effective and direct. Typically, we spend donations within 5-days of being received. We drive directly to the homes of the people, personally assess each situation and take immediate emergency action.

Our actions often include long-term plans and we often seek partnership with a Mexican business, charity or group. We form these partnerships on the spot. We either bring the family with long-term or high-dollar needs to a business, charity, church in Mexico or we take someone from these places with us when we visit a family. Everyone knows that we expect an immediate answer and that we 'do not fool-around' when it comes to taking action.
"A hungry person does not get excited when you form a committee to discuss his problem. He gets excited about a sandwich!"

It is gratifying to tell Juan Pedro's parents to take him on the next bus to Monterrey where he will be immediately fitted with a prosthetic leg. We know this means that we must immediately raise $4,350, but our experience has always been that Americans will jump in to help when they see that every penny of their money is used to help children like Juan Pedro.

Many of the children we help benefit from very small donations. Our school lunch program only costs us 12 cents per day to provide a hot and nutritious meal for a child. We have an army pf volunteer cooks in Mexico and the ingredients for these meals is subsidized by the Mexican government.

Today, FOX News reported on a scandal about the lunch programs in the U.S. school cafeterias. The reporter spoke about the lack of inspections, the poor quality of the food and said that many of these meals were less nutritious than meals at a fast food restaurant. The way these meals were described convinced me that if my children were in school they would pack their lunch!

But this is not the case in our lunch program. Because the cooks are volunteer parents, trained and certified by the state in meal preparation and health laws,the ingredients are carefully inspected when delivered. The volunteers prepare the meals and carefully clean the kitchen and cafeteria every day.

We visit these cafeterias without notice and conduct our own inspections. We also have a meal with the children and interview parents, the teacher, students and the volunteer cooks every month. Because we remain small, we are able to see everything, first hand.

It is good to be small.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


We are often frustrated by the 24/7 news cycle of economic worries, border security, unemployment,deficit spending,and the catastrophe du jour. We are frustrated because we feel helpless. It is as if we should just sit in front of the TV and wait for the end of the world.

At Paper Houses Across the Border, the feeling of helplessness ends. We see a problem. We fix a problem. It is really that simple and it is amazingly satisfying.

A friend of mine, like many people, goes out with friends, goes to a movie, or goes to the gym to forget about the world's problems. While I enjoy a night out, I know that the world and its problems are waiting for me when I return. I minimize my exposure to news - but the real sense of relief is when I dive into the work of Paper Houses.

There is huge satisfaction in this 'work' because I meet such wonderful people. Not only are the people of the colonias inspirational, but the many supporters are also inspiring! Children selling lemonade, people living on social security, attorneys, priests, ministers, police officers, fire fighters and even a survivor from the Nazi death-camps are among our supporters.

Many people in the colonias sum up how amazed I am at so many people that willingly help. "Why will total strangers help my son? They do not even know us. Why do the Americans help?"

Why indeed. As a police officer I was exposed to the worst in our society. With Paper Houses Across the Border, I am exposed to the very best.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back to the Future

A policeman got lost in the colonias. He found hundreds and hundreds of people surviving on the edge of Mexico and on the edge of poverty. He was surrounded by people living in shacks made of cardboard. No water, no plumbing, dirt roads and a monotonous diet of beans, rice and tortillas. He was also surrounded with smiles, invitations to share a meal and hope.

Gospel stories suddenly made complete sense. These are the outcasts, the forgotten people, the people nobody wants. They live minutes from the richest country on earth and barely survive. Not only did the Gospel stories make sense, the policeman's life made sense. I am that policeman.

With the help of St. Joseph's Church and the Houston Police Officer's Union, Paper Houses Across the Border was founded. Bill Staney, David and Evelyn Diaz, Jennifer, George, and Ms. Christine Wiegman were our founding board members. The Badge and Gun, Houston Chronicle, People Magazine and many other media outlets helped to tell our story.

Since that time, the colonias have changed. The drug cartels are at war with each other and with the Mexican Army for control of the Mexican cities along our border. Even the ladies that sell used clothing are reportedly paying protection money to the cartels to stay in business. Tourism has ceased. Factory owners canceled expansion plans and closely monitor the situation. Most church groups and charities have shifted their operations to other countries.

It is now 2010 and the hard working families remaining in the colonias need our help more than ever. Many have told me that it seems that the church groups that preached faith and trust in God, no longer have enough faith to send help to the colonias.

Consequently, there is more need than we can meet. I will not choose to limit our help. Instead, I will increase our ability to help.

So, we will begin again. I will reach out to every person that helped and ask them to help even more. I will speak to groups, churches, and businesses. None of this is easy. It is not supposed to be easy. Many will remark that 'charity starts at home' and I will reply that this is not what Jesus said. In fact, almost every thing Jesus said and did suggested the exact opposite. He unequivocally directed us to go forth to all nations. He defined our 'neighbor' as the foreigner (Samaritan)and constantly ignored the priests and holy people to be with the outcasts.

I do not expect to change hardened hearts. When I talk about what Jesus did and what He experienced, it is to help me to remember that this is not supposed to be easy. And, at the end of the day, many people will help and they will feel so much better for the act of faith.

As for the policeman, he does not hesitate to walk his 'beat' in the colonias. He still has many friends to visit and new friends to make.