Creating a Bright Space at the Texas Border – First Visit to the Agency
by Ileen Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces
McAllen, TX is a place very few Americans had heard of till a few months ago, and now the hotels swell with immigration lawyers, advocates, and caring and concerned volunteers signing up in droves to drop everything in their lives and travel to this small American border town to chop vegetables, mop floors, sort clothes, and fill plastic bags with basic hygiene products.
As the refugees released from I.C.E. – some with ankle bracelets to track their location, some with children recently reunited, all thirsty, hungry, unwashed, terrified, and exhausted – file in to the Humanitarian Respite Center, they are greeted with applause from the volunteers and staff and welcomed in Spanish by Sister Norma Pimentel, the center’s guiding light and fearless leader. This amazing place is just that; a respite, a place to feel safe, to be cared for, if only for a brief moment, before they set out on often long bus rides to continue the brave journey they are on to find a safe place to enjoy the freedom to life, liberty, and the safe pursuit of happiness for themselves and their children.
On Monday, June 25, Stephen Kramer, CEO of Bright Horizons went to McAllen to learn firsthand about the plight of children and families coming across our southern border. He left feeling optimistic about our ability to make a difference, and with his leadership, the Foundation is committed to creating our newest Bright Space.
On Wednesday, I had the honor to go to McAllen and work beside these committed volunteers and Respite Staff, in a way that reflects the best of the values of the U.S. and its citizens. The work being done to create the Bright Space at the Humanitarian Respite Center and many other places across the country reflect our morality and humanity and allow us to show our best selves.
First, children are fed. Scared hungry, dehydrated children eat soup made that morning with love by volunteers. Then the adults eat. After that, they wait to use the two showers, select fresh clothing, see a volunteer doctor or medic if needed, stock up on essential supplies and snacks, and then leave again for the bus station that will take them to reunite with their family members across the United States.
This week, after spending the day talking to staff, volunteers and children, I have worked with the Foundation’s Bright Space team to design a Bright Space to match the needs of these children who have been so impacted by trauma. The design takes into consideration the available space, the length of time the children are typically using the space, and the ultimate goal to provide respite and safety and to help the children in this transition before their next journey.
I am looking forward to working with a team of Bright Horizons volunteers to work together to transform this space in the next few weeks and support the work of Sister Norma and her team on an ongoing basis for the foreseeable future.