Call for volunteers to help bring holiday cheer to unaccompanied minors shelter

PECOS — A shelter for unaccompanied minors in Pecos is looking for volunteers to help decorate the compound for the holidays. Endeavors — run by a private organization under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services — serves migrant children who have been separated from their families along their journey to the United States. 

Father Mike Wallens of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Marfa has been helping coordinate services for children at the shelter alongside his work with a coalition of religious leaders that serves single adults and families seeking asylum. “They really do their best to welcome these children and provide them comfort,” he said. 

The shelter’s services run the gamut from providing six hours of schooling a day to therapy and counseling. Wallens provides pastoral care and “spiritual studies” — a nondenominational version of a traditional Bible study open to all. He makes himself available to the adults working at the shelter, too — many of the children in the shelter have experienced significant trauma, and helping those kids work through their feelings takes its own toll. 

Some of the kids at Endeavors already have a parent living in the United States and only stay at the shelter for a short stint. For others, there’s a lot of detective work involved. “There are still family separations going on now,” Wallens explained, referring to a practice in which adults found committing an immigration offense are detained separately from their families and are sometimes also deported without their children. “Our government doesn’t always keep good track of them.” 

When efforts to find a child’s birth family are unsuccessful, they must wait for another sponsor to be vetted and approved — a process that can take years. Endeavors was initially conceived as a short-term solution to the problems faced by the children of migrants, but as immigration policy has shifted it has had to accommodate longer-term residents. 

Wallens recalled a particularly moving interaction with a staff member. “When they first come [to the shelter], they have no idea what’s going to happen — you can see the fear in their eyes, they have no idea what’s going to happen,” he said. “The greatest joy the staff receive is watching that fear drop and the kids become comfortable while they’re waiting to find what the next step is for them.”

This year, the staff wants to brighten up the space — literally. Wallens is hoping to enlist volunteers from Marfa and the surrounding areas to decorate the space with lights and holiday cheer. The date will depend on which day the majority of folks are available. To sign up for this project, contact Father Wallens via email ([email protected]) or via cell phone (214 862 7292).