Sunday, March 20, 2011

Getting to know Casa Marianella

Casa Marianella opened its doors on January 6, 1986 by the Austin Interfaith Task Force for Central America in response to the large amount of refugees coming from Central America. The house is named after Marianella Garcia Villas, a human rights lawyer in El Salvador that was killed by the death squads in 1983, the day before she was going to meet with the Organizacion de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) to ask peace in her country, according to El Pais’ website.
Most of the residents come from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Cuba and Nicaragua. Political refugees have priority when looking for shelter. Casa Marianella is located on Gunter Street in Austin, Tx and has a nightly occupancy of 21 to 30 people. However, often times this number can go as high as 50 people. The facility provides food, clothing, English classes, transportation to court, help to get documents in order and basic medical assistance, according to Casa Marianella’s website. Most of the things, such as the food, clean utensils, bath products, and clothes are donations from the neighborhood and Austin community, according to Casa Marianella’s newspaper.
This facility is composed of three houses all next to each other. The main house, which is still the original facility of Casa Marianella, has the rooms for the residents, an office, kitchen, backyard and garden houses where they keep clothes and utensils. The second house situated right in front of the main one is used for residents that need to stay longer periods of time, sometimes up to three years. The last house of Casa Marianella is used for the two ESL classes English I, and English II that are held Monday through Thursday, from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
St. Edward’s, Reflect, Volunteer Engage (S.E.R.V.E.) Austin project promotes serving the community, understanding local social justice issues and building relationships, according to St. Edward’s Website. Volunteers from St. Edward’s University involve in this program meet up every Monday at 5 p.m. in the Campus Ministry building located at St. Edward’s University campus, where they are picked up and taken to Casa Marianella. Once there, volunteers engage in different activities with the residents. There are activities inside the house such as helping with the dinner, watching television with the residents, working on job applications, researching for housing in the computer, cleaning the rooms and closets, one-on-one English classes or helping staff members with paper work for the residents. In addition, there are activities outside the house such as playing basketball, picking up the trash around the three houses, cleaning the backyard, and fixing things around the house.

Volunteers stay around Casa Marianella until 8 p.m. when they are picked up by Campus Ministry members and taken back to the University.
During the volunteer period through the semester, volunteers meet up couple of times with supervisors to talk about the different experiences and ways of improving our service. Every group in the S.E.R.V.E. Austin project has a leader, in this case Shirley Green is the leader for Casa Marianella, who is available for questions and support at all times and often times peep talks are held to reflect on the service giving to the community.