Student volunteers disappointed by potential closure of Austin State Supported Living Center

Rachel Lew and Eleanor Dearman

On Sundays, social work senior Denisse Calderon wakes up and visits the Austin State Supported Living Center (ASSLC) to meet with residents and accompany them to a church service.

“My work at the ASSLC has really influenced my life greatly,” Calderon said. “Since I’ve volunteered with them for about four years now, I have gotten to know a lot of their mannerisms and quirks and things I can do to really put on a smile on their faces or calm them down if they feel [uncomfortable] at Mass.”

Calderon is one of around 50 UT students and members of other University groups who set aside their time to volunteer at the ASSLC, a home for the elderly with a focus on those with mental disabilities. 

But the center may close by August 2017 after the Texas Senate passed a bill earlier this month with a provision to close the ASSLC after nearly a century of operation.

If the House approves the bill and Gov. Greg Abbott signs it, the center may close its doors permanently over the next several years, and the more than 200 residents who currently live there would be relocated to other care facilities. 

University volunteers at the center attend and help throw recreational events, visit with residents and help maintain the center’s grounds, according to Anne McGonigle, assistant director of community relations for the ASSLC.  

McGonigle said student volunteers will be more important than ever if the bill passes and the center has to close. 

“We are still serving these individuals, and volunteers are still a big part of that and will continue to be, regardless of the decision made by the Legislature,” McGonigle said. “I think it will be an important time for volunteers to come out and interact with the residents and let them know how important they are.” 

Combined, the Austin center and 12 others like it across the state receive more than $660 million in funding from the state. Last year, the Sunset Advisory Commission, a state commission that reviews the efficiency of state agencies, concluded the centers were no longer affordable.

According to McGonigle, volunteers — especially those with Friends of the Austin State Supported Living Center, a local nonprofit that raises money for the ASSLC — will have a role in raising funds and determining how they are distributed if the center closes.

Marylu Vasquez, a communication sciences senior who has volunteered at the center for the past three years, said she enjoys working there because many of the residents think of her and the other volunteers as friends.

“You get to meet them by name, and they remember you, even though they are not your assigned person,” Vasquez said.

Lance Angelle, a volunteer at the center and a exercise science and allied health professions senior, said he is disappointed the center may close.

“Many of the residents will be displaced into private health care facilities but won’t have   any income to pay for it or family members to help them since many of them are older,” Angelle said. “I think if more people spent time with the residents they would see the sense of joy and purpose that the state supported living center has brought to so many people.”