THE ISSUE:
The T.R. Havins Unit male pre-release facility operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice holds a capacity of 596 men, many of whom have been separated from their families due to incarceration.

THE IMPACT:
One Day With God seeks volunteers to assist in reuniting inmates with their children Sept. 22-23.

Organizers of next month’s One Day With God, which reunites inmates at the Havins Unit with their children for a day of activities, prayer, reconciliation and food, are putting out the call for volunteers and donations to make the event possible.
“It’s just one day out of the whole year to impact the lives of many people,” said Brownwood veterinarian Dr. Gayland Gowdy, who is co-chair of the event.

Volunteers, donations needed

This will be the third year of the event at the Havins Unit, and 150 to 200 local volunteers are needed, Gowdy said. It also takes about $5,000 in donations.
It’s actually a two-day event that begins Friday, Sept. 22, when volunteers spend time with inmates who’ve gone through a lengthy application and selection process with the prison system.
On that Friday, volunteers take the inmates through a class called “godly men,” Gowdy said. The actual reunions between the inmates and their children take place Saturday, Sept. 23.
Gowdy and co-chair Ima Martin visited the Bulletin with two other volunteers — Ron Keener, pastor of North Lake Community Church, and Keener’s wife, Elaine.
“This is our third year. We’re trying to broaden the base this year and seek additional church support — volunteer and financial,” Ron Keener said.
Coggin Avenue Baptist Church is the host church. Volunteers will escort the children to the Havins Unit for visits with their inmate-fathers. Activities are also planned at the host church for the adults who bring the children to Brownwood from around the state.
The Havins Unit, which opened in 1994, is a male pre-release unit operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The unit has a maximum capacity of 596 and is located on 300 acres off FM 45, five miles south of Brownwood.

‘A day of forgiveness’

The Saturday reunions inside the Havins Unit are “powerful,” Elaine Keener said. “Powerful and wonderful and moving and emotional, to watch children reconnect with their dads … as the day progresses, it is just an amazing thing to have the kids say to their dads ‘when you come home this time, we want you to stay home. We want you to be with us.’”
Gowdy described the day of reunions as “a very unique event. It’s a day of forgiveness, because there’s a lot of hurt, commonly, that’s involved with these relationships. It’s a day of reconciliation.”
Ron Keener said it’s overwhelming to consider the amount of time that volunteers have invested previously in One Day With God. “To say that ‘I’m going to give my time,’ and they step into the prison unit … and when you leave on Saturday evening, you know that this has been something that surely is having an impact on the lives of these families and these dads and their children,” Keener said.

How to volunteer

Volunteers are needed in many areas of the event, including preparing and serving food, prayer, helping with activities and escorting the children, Gowdy said.
Anyone interested in volunteering can call Gowdy at the Small Animal Medical Center, 643-2275, or at his home at 643-2427.
Interested volunteers can also contact Martin at 642-6670.
Anyone who wants to donate should make checks out to “prison ministry of Brownwood” and can bring checks to the Small Animal Medical Center, 1001-A N. Fisk, Gowdy said.

‘The heart of God’
    
“My plea is for volunteers to come and let God just show you His heart, and you be His heart to these children and to these dads, because they need to see the heart of God,” Elaine Keener said.
It’s not an imposition to volunteer, Martin said. “When you get there, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world,” she said.
The only part Martin doesn’t like: when the children leave at the end of the day. “It is so hard,” she said. “It’s like pulling something that belongs together, apart. That is so hard.”