A little slice of home: Rusk’s Little Blue House offers a place to TDCJ visitors

by Cristin Parker cristin@thecherokeean.com
Photo by Cristin Parker
Visitors to Rusk’s Skyview/Hodge Visitor Center, aka the Little Blue House, enjoy all the comforts of home, while they wait for their visits with their incarcerated family members. Photo by Cristin Parker
Visitors to Rusk’s Skyview/Hodge Visitor Center, aka the Little Blue House, enjoy all the comforts of home, while they wait for their visits with their incarcerated family members.

Lots of people travel miles and miles to see their loved ones for the holidays. And for many of those people, lodging is as simple as the foldout couch in Grandma’s living room.

For those traveling to Rusk to see their incarcerated family members, it’s not that simple. Fortunately, Rusk’s Skyview/Hodge Visitor Center, known locally as the Little Blue House, is there to bridge the gap. While the center isn’t an overnight facility, it does provide a place for the families of inmates to go during visitation hours.

“It’s really very nice,” visitor Sherri Lucky, of Dallas, said during a recent visit to see a family member. She was accompanied by her sisters and her special needs son. “We’ve been here before over the last couple years – we live an hour and a half to two hours away, so it’s really nice to know we have such a nice, comfortable place to come to while we wait. We appreciate it so much.”

The Center has been in operation for nearly 20 years and is currently run by Dogwood Trails Baptist Association (DTBA) in Jacksonville. Prior to the Center’s construction, DTBA Executive Director Lee Welch explained the only place visitors to the prisons could wait to see their loved ones was the prison parking lot.

“A lot of times these families travel a lot of miles to get here, but they can’t go in until they’re called – so a lot of times they have to wait to get in to see their loved ones,” Welch said. “The Little Blue House gives them a place to wait out of the elements; get refreshed from their travels; and even provides appropriate attire, as needed.

“That’s the reason we built this. It’s especially good for families with children. We have a playroom just for them.”

The Center has played host to visitors from as close as Alto to as far away as Belgium and Honduras.

“We had a gentleman from Honduras who visited here,” longtime volunteer Doris Roberson said. “I was crocheting a pot-holder and he’d never seen that before. He was very interested in how it worked.

“I finished that holder while he was still there and because he was so fascinated with the process, I gave it to him. He was so appreciative and thanked me so many times – he even offered to pay for it. It’s just interesting to me that something so little could make such a huge impact on someone.”

And Center officials are offering the community a chance to make that kind of impact, too.

“We’re staffed solely with volunteers,” Center Director Maxine Pierce said. “We simply could not do this without their support and the support of our local churches

“Recently we had quite a bit of refreshments donated to us from Cornerstone Baptist Church in Jacksonville. They did a great job and we are so grateful for the support our community provides.”

Other churches that routinely help support the Little Blue House include Reklaw Baptist, First Baptist-Alto, Eastside Baptist, First Baptist-Rusk, Calvary Baptist, Oakland Baptist, Fellowship Bible and Overton Baptist.

Pierce said the Center even got a hand from the Texas Department of Transportation. Crews recently resurfaced part of FM 2972, the road the Center is located on, and used a bit of leftover road material to patch a large pothole in the Center’s driveway.

“They didn’t have to do that, but they did,” Pierce said. “We want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their help. It wouldn’t have gotten done, but for their assistance.”

TDCJ’s work squads also do the yard work, maintain the outside of the house and even painted the facility’s sign.

“They always do a great job and we appreciate all they do for us,” Pierce said.

Volunteer opportunities are always available to anyone called to devote their time and expertise to the cause. Anyone interested in volunteering at the Visitor Center, can call the Dogwood Trails Baptist Association, (903) 586-5156.

Visitation is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Donations are always welcome. Send monetary donations to Dogwood Trails Baptist Area Family Visitor’s Center, PO Box 949, Jacksonville, TX 75766. Make checks payable to Dogwood Trails Baptist Association.