Professor Serves as Beacon of Hope to Houston's Street Community
Spanish professor Paul Mandell is a strong example of civic service for his students at UHD. Formerly the director of mission and outreach and Christ Church Cathedral, Mandell is a co-founder of The Beacon Day Center, a facility that serves Houston's underserved and homeless populations.
"Originally, we wanted to find out how to best serve the street community by augmenting the services already available to them," said Mandell.
In 2004, the church held some panel discussions with other organizations, which identified a need for medical services. Attendees identified that people were more likely to seek medical attention when paired with services they perceive as more urgent, like food and showers.
The Beacon serves as that gateway. Founded in January 2007 at 1212 Prairie St., The Beacon now offers laundry services, private showers and lavatories, hot meals and case management services for 600 people daily.
Mandell continues to volunteer every Monday and Friday morning, typically processing laundry intake during the 6:45 a.m. shift.
"I take the early shift because it tends to be the most difficult one to fill. It's close to campus, so I can help out before I come to work," he said.
UHD professors and students have gotten involved, too. Associate professor Jean DeWitt spearheaded the UHD outreach, and now numerous faculty encourage student participation as an option for service learning components.
Mandell frequently runs into UHD students from the University Honors Program, Connections Mentoring and service fraternities.
"They usually bring a friend, too," said Mandell. "It's impactful. The students learn firsthand that volunteering often affects the helper more than the served. Some volunteers have even reconnected with family members they did or did not know were on the streets," said Mandell.
The Beacon Day Center is open Thursday through Monday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Led by acclaimed, professional chef Mike Puccio, the industrial kitchen serves a nutritious lunch each day, including a choice of two hot entrees, fruit or grain salad and fresh bread.
The ministry is run by a small staff that relies heavily on volunteers to support its daily operations. Volunteers can register online to view the shifts with highest need.