Catholic Worker House volunteer director “inspires everyone around her”

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As homeless elderly people walk into the Catholic Worker House for cereal and fruit on a hot Wednesday morning, volunteer principal Chris Plauche greets them by name and asks how they are doing.

” How is work ? “

“Are you able to afford your medication? “

She hands them their mail, adjusts a man’s bag so his money doesn’t fall out, and asks another man if he’s ready to go to the hotel.

Volunteers have been trying to get him ID for months. He finally has an appointment at a driver’s license office. Now they’re taking him to the hotel to find out where to find him when it’s time to get to his date, Plauche explains.

In addition to meals, the Catholic Worker House on the East Side offers laundry services, internet access and toiletries.

The bedrooms at Dignowity Hill House are stocked with tubs of shampoo, shower gel, socks, underwear, shoe strings, and cotton balls. There are also envelopes and parcels waiting for their recipients to come and pick them up.

“They are my friends,” said Plauche, 73. “They are my community.

Last week, the San Antonio Express-News ran a 14-week article titled SA Lights. The series features San Antonians like Plauche leading the way in changing their city – or “lighting the way forward,” as editor Mark Medici wrote in his introduction to SA Lights.

Army veteran Richard Clark, 68, fills out a quiz at a town hall at Catholic Worker House. Clark, who is currently in accommodation in Virginia, said the rent was too high and left him only $ 95 for monthly expenses. He hopes for a more affordable alternative in the village.

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

Plauche’s approach to the San Antonio homeless problem is both practical and visionary.

A native and retired Lake Charles, Louisiana physician, she has served the homeless community since 2005.

At the time, she had never heard of Catholic Worker, a movement founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin that is “committed to non-violence, willful poverty and works of mercy as a way of life,” according to a website on the organization. . This work includes taking care of the homeless, the sick and the imprisoned.

Plauche was nearing retirement after dedicating her life to serving children with special needs and teaching as a pediatrician, teacher and camp founder.

Plauche and other Air Force pediatricians started Camp CAMP – Children’s Association for Maximum Potential – in 1979 to provide programs for children who could not attend other camps due to their disabilities and needs. medical.

Plauche also worked as a Neurodevelopmental Disability Specialist for the University of Texas at San Antonio Health Sciences Center, since renamed UT Health.

But as she struggled to finish writing a book chapter on autism in 2005, she made a deal with God that would change the course of her life. She admitted that she shouldn’t have agreed to write the chapter in the first place and promised that if he got it out, she would volunteer 20 hours a week.

“You can take me out of my comfort zone,” she said in her interview with God.

Soon after, she had a dream in which her pastor was helping a homeless man. In real life, her pastor soon after gave her a book on Dorothy Day and Catholic Worker. Then she made a wrong turn towards a clinic and ended up under a bridge, where people sheltering there walked towards her car, thinking she had brought food.

“All my life, when something big happens, it’s like three things are happening at once,” Plauche said. “I said, ‘Alright, my God, that’s it. “

Since then she has spent much of her time at Catholic Worker House and began volunteering full time in 2007. Plauche compares her experience to the expectations of missionaries when they travel to a new place to evangelize.

“You think that you are going to be useful and that you are going to make a big difference, and what you find is that they are having more of an impact on you than you can ever hope to have on them,” he said. she declared.

The environment Plauche created at the Catholic Worker House took hold of Katie Vela, executive director of the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, on her first visit years ago.

You can eat and relax in safety outside the Catholic Worker House on Nolan Street. Vela recalled that Plauche had talked about wanting to offer customers a nice hot cup of coffee. It also helps them apply for disability benefits.

“She wanted her to feel like home,” Vela said. “I could just immediately see how comforted people were to be there. The people who got services there all had a personal relationship with Chris.

Molly Biglari, interim CEO of Haven for Hope, the homeless services organization, said Plauche and Catholic Worker House provide a place for clients to feel safe and build trust with the organization.

Plauche is “phenomenally caring and compassionate,” Biglari said.

Stand up before dawn

Plauche begins each day in the wee hours – around 3 a.m. – by reflecting on the night before, meditating on the scriptures, and praying. Then it is Mass, followed by a two or three mile walk up to the Catholic Worker House to serve meals and help the guests.

Chris Plauche, second from left, describes Towne Twin Village to customers.

Chris Plauche, second from left, describes Towne Twin Village to customers.

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

She returns home for an hour before moving to work in Towne Twin Village, a housing community with services for the homeless slated for construction at 4711 Dietrich Road on the East Side.

Development is an original idea of ​​Plauche.

The project will provide 205 homes for homeless people over 50 and free meals. This includes mini homes, energy efficient apartments, and RV trailers.

Residents will have access to medical, dental and mental health clinics, addiction treatment and harm reduction with on-site social workers.

Towne Twin Village will include hospices and respite units, pantry, chapel, multi-purpose center with amphitheater, barber, community garden, laundromat, nail salon, library and computer center, gymnasium, GED tests, and music and art classes.

Catholic Worker House will be relocating to the site and Plauche plans to volunteer to spend time with residents as PAL, which stands for Please Alleviate Loneliness.

The first phase – which includes purchasing the land, installing RV trailers, and constructing 42 mini-homes and several buildings – will cost $ 11.8 million. The second stage is expected to cost almost $ 8 million.

Approximately $ 4.4 million was raised from private sources, including $ 1 million from the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. The City of San Antonio, the San Antonio Housing Trust Fund and Foundation, and the County of Bexar also provide funds.

The idea for Towne Twin Village started to germinate in her mind in 2008, when she discovered the “Housing First” model: placing homeless people in housing as the first step in meeting their needs.

Then she found out that a convent was for sale. Soon after, developer and philanthropist Gordan Hartman contacted her to join an advisory board for Morgan’s Wonderland, a disabled theme park inspired by Hartman’s daughter, Morgan.

Again, three events in a row.

Hartman, who calls Plauche “Saint Chris,” met her years earlier when she became one of Morgan’s doctors. He offered his contribution to Plauche as she searched for land for Towne Twin Village.

She “believes she has some role to play in helping those who have no voice and no power within our community to improve their lives,” Hartman said.

“You’re not going to stop her when she has an idea,” he added.

Finding land, raising funding for the first phase, and setting up the association to oversee it took years, but Plauche and other organizers kicked off the project in May. She hopes the first recreational vehicles will be ready this fall.

Vela, of the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, said Plauche had “courage.”

Plauche kept Vela updated on the progress of plans for Towne Twin Village. At one point, she was on the verge of finding a property but it didn’t work.

“A lot of people would have given up or said, ‘I guess that’s not in the cards.’ But she was not willing to do it, ”Vela said. “She just has that inner motivation and that passion that drives her forward, and inspires everyone around her.”

Reflecting on the years she volunteered at Catholic Worker House, Plauche said she marveled at the resilience and faith of the homeless community. They have faced all kinds of suffering and tragedy.

Linda Mascorro, an advocate for the homeless, helps a client with a questionnaire during a town hall at the Catholic Worker House.

Linda Mascorro, an advocate for the homeless, helps a client with a questionnaire during a town hall at the Catholic Worker House.

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

“They just keep moving. I don’t know how they do it, ”she said. “Their faith is so much stronger than mine. I wish I had the faith they had.

Back at Catholic Worker House on this heavy Wednesday, a woman visiting with a volunteer for the first time comes to Plauche to thank her.

Tama Bakel said she had been homeless for a year and a half. She was struggling to recover after falling ill and someone had stolen her cell phone. The breakfast, she said, was wonderful.

“I think you have to tell people that she is fantastic,” Bakel told a reporter. “I think you have to tell people that she is amazing.”

“There will be people who will come back and thank you for the impact you have had in their lives,” she said, turning to Plauche. “All I knew was I wanted to talk to the lady who impacted lives here. I love you.”

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