In downtown Huntsville, a large house stands as a beacon of love and hope for the families whose relatives are housed inside Huntsville’s prisons. This house, the Hospitality House, offers free food, lodging and other services for visiting family members of inmates. Debra McCammon celebrated her 10th year as Director of the Hospitality House in November 2019. She is extremely passionate about the ministry, explaining that these families are often overlooked by churches and other ministries, who tend to focus on the inmates.
The Hospitality House was built in 1986 after local Baptists realized that women and children were sleeping in their cars to visit their loved ones. Many of these women were the sole providers for their families and could not afford to stay in hotels. The Texas Baptist Prisoner Family Ministry Foundation decided to create a safe place for these families during their visits. As a result, 270 Texas Baptist Men (TBM) volunteers came to Huntsville and built the Hospitality House in 24 hours. The house has 17 bedrooms and can house up to 64 people at a time.
Since its creation, the Hospitality House has been supported by TBM, Texas Baptists, churches, associations and individuals dedicated to its mission. It is also a recipient of the Mary Hill Davis Offering, a Texas WMU-led offering that supports missions around the state of Texas.
McCammon explained that coming together was a natural part of Baptist life, because “Baptists have always learned that we can do more when we all work together.”
McCammon has been passionate about caring for prisoners’ families for many years. This passion began in 1989, when her husband, Joe, became the pastor of Cook Springs Baptist Church in Huntsville, a town which houses seven prisons. Cook Springs hosted the TBM volunteers who built the Hospitality House, and it was there that she learned of its existence. During her husband’s stint as Cook Spring’s pastor, she became actively involved in the Hospitality House, volunteering and serving in many capacities.
In 2001, McCammon was asked to serve on the board of the Hospitality House, even though she and her family were living in Mesquite at the time. Then, in 2009, she was appointed Executive Director of the home and returned to Huntsville, moving into the house to minister to the families that stay there. In November 2019, McCammon was honored for her 10 years of service by Ernest Dagahoy, a Texas Baptists Area Representative, who presented her with a certificate of congratulations on behalf of the Texas Baptists.
Each year, McCammon estimates that between 3,500 and 3,600 people pass through their doors. Many people visit their relatives monthly, something they would have been unable to do without the free housing provided. McCammon has developed strong relationships with the regular visitors, and the struggles that they face have inspired McCammon to go beyond providing food and lodging.
Her husband, Joe, is the chaplain for the families in addition to his day job as a teacher. He provides counseling to families going through difficult times, including when inmates are on death row or hospice care. There is also a food pantry where families can stock up on food to take home after their stay at the Hospitality House.
McCammon described the families as the “other victims of crime,” and explained that they were left to deal with both emotional and economic repercussions of the crime and incarceration. Many of the families who pass through the home are single mothers who are the sole providers for their children now that their childrens’ fathers are incarcerated. This is an extremely difficult environment for children to grow up in. A study McCammon read found that 70% of children in Texas with a parent in prison will go to prison themselves. This struck a chord with McCammon.
“I couldn’t imagine these kids I knew going to prison,” she said.
So, McCammon began a new push to provide more resources to ensure that the cycle of crime is not passed down to the children. Ten years after her appointment, the Hospitality House has seen amazing growth in the resources it provides to the children of inmates. They have a back-to-school drive, where they collect backpacks full of supplies for the children. There is also a Santa shop, where parents can find free gifts to give to their children that they may not have been able to afford otherwise during the Christmas season.
While the children are at the Hospitality House, tutoring is available to help with their studies. There is also an art therapy program, called Art Against the Odds, that provides an outlet for children after they have gone through the often stressful experience of visiting a parent in prison. Go Now Missions, a Texas Baptists student missionary program, sends summer missionaries to help with the children. Many of the students that come have similar backgrounds as the children at the Hospitality House, which gives the children access to students thriving in college and motivates them to strive for college themselves.
McCammon stays busy with coordinating the day-to-day activities, as well as traveling to fundraise and raise awareness around Texas. She has a front desk employee and a part-time accountant to help, but it is the volunteers who keep the Hospitality House running smoothly.
Many church groups bring in hot meals to serve to the families. In addition, all the laundry, cleaning and maintenance is done by volunteers.
“God has been so good, His provision is amazing,” McCammon said. “We never run out… In fact, in the first three or four weeks of starting here, God taught me this is His ministry, not mine, and I just need to keep it open and He’ll provide the rest.”
The Hospitality House helps keep families connected, so when the incarcerated person gets out of prison, he or she has a family to reconnect to and will be less likely to end up back in prison.
Because of her passion for families of inmates, McCammon spends much of her time traveling, spreading awareness and encouraging churches to open their doors to these hurting families. Many churches have strong ministries for inmates, McCammon explained, but they often do not realize these families are in desperate need of healing as well.
The ministry continues to be a family project for the McCammons. In addition to her husband’s ministry, the McCammons children and grandchildren also volunteer at the house whenever they come to visit. The Hospitality House is an integral part of their family’s life, and McCammon is excited to see how the Lord continues to use them in ministry to spread His love to more families.
“My husband and I are so passionate about this ministry,” McCammon said. “It’s been an incredible 10 years.”