Building that houses Legal Hospice of Texas, Stonewall Behavioral Health closed after fire

Roger Wedell

The Oak Lawn office building at 3626 N. Hall St. that houses Legal Hospice of Texas was closed Monday after a fire on the floor above the agency. Stonewall Behavioral Health, which specializes in counseling services for the LGBT community, is also housed in the building.

LHT Executive Director Roger Wedell said tenants were told they would be able to return Tuesday or today, but damage to the utility core was more extensive than originally thought.

The agency has relocated temporarily to the building next door at 3303 Lee Parkway #210, and Weddell said they would be able to receive clients next Monday. Anyone with an appointment for this week has already been rescheduled, Weddell said. He said clients with appointments should call to confirm before coming to the new office next week. The phones are being answered.

“There was no damage to our office,” Wedell said. “No injuries. It’s a cleaning issue.”

Candy Marcum of Stonewall Behavioral Health couldn’t immediately be reached.

—  David Taffet

Legal Hospice of Texas receives ‘cy pres’ award

LEGAL AID | Legal Hospice of Texas received a “cy pres” award that will help them deliver services to low-income persons are HIV-positive or have other life-threatening illnesses in 16 North Texas counties. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Legal Hospice of Texas has received an award of $94,969 as part of the largest “cy pres” award to legal aid in Texas.

“Cy pres” awards are residual funds from a class action suit or other legal proceedings that cannot be distributed to class members or the intended beneficiaries for a variety of reasons. The class action suit, Meyers et. al v. State of Texas, et. al, involved allegations that the state violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by charging Texans with disabilities for the standardized blue placards used for parking.

Executive Director Roger Wedell said attorneys involved in class action suits, along with mediators and judges, can influence how these excess funds are disbursed. Funds that are not distributed would be paid to the state.

Since the state was the defendant, Wedell said there was an interest in not returning this money to the state. The “cy pres” funds received from this suit will help provide legal aid to Texans with disabilities.

More than $2.6 million from the Meyers lawsuit was awarded to six legal aid organizations that provide civil legal services to low income Texans with disabilities. An additional $6.4 million from the suit will flow to other non-profit organizations that serve the needs of Texans with disabilities.

The funds come at a critical time for the agency, Wedell said, which has been particularly hard-hit by the recession.

Legal Hospice of Texas began as a volunteer organization that assisted with end-of-life paperwork at evening and weekend clinics at the Dallas Gay Alliance office on Cedar Springs Road. The organizations received its first grants in 1989 from the Dallas and Texas Bar foundations, adding its first staff when Ryan White CARE Act funding began in 1990.

In addition to Wedell, the organization now has two paid staff attorneys and works with about 40 volunteers from individual to large law firms.

Legal Hospice of Texas provides services to low-income persons are HIV-positive or have other life-threatening illnesses in 16 North Texas counties. Those with HIV must already be registered through one of the other agencies that can refer persons for service.

Wedell said most of Legal Hospice’s work is in three areas: estate planning, wills and preparation of other end-of-life documents. Attorneys also assist clients with legal issues relating to Social Security, unemployment insurance and other public benefits. Employment consultations with people newly diagnosed is a third area of expertise for Legal Hospice.

—  David Taffet

Midway Hills begins capital campaign

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Roger Wedell
Roger Wedell

Midway Hills Christian Church has kicked off a capital campaign to raise $400,000 to renovate and update the facility. Spokesman Tom Peck called it an “express campaign” to raise the money in August.

Campaign co-chair Roger Wedell said the total goal was $900,000 and the improvements would help the church better serve the community.
The church has a long history of welcoming the LGBT community. In the 1970s, Midway Hills was one of only four Dallas congregations to co-host a program on churches and homosexuality.

Midway Hills was one of the original rehearsal spaces for the Turtle Creek Chorale, and fFor more than 15 years, the church hosted P-FLAG.

Early in the AIDS crisis, Midway Hills met the challenge when other churches shunned people with AIDS or ignored the problem. It was one of the first churches to form an AIDS Interfaith Network care team.

Wedell said the renovations to the building would create more flexible spaces.

“We hope to accommodate a wider variety of groups in the community,” he said. “And a wider variety of worship and contemporary expressions.”
Rather than fixed pews, the main sanctuary would have modular seating and the chancel would be moveable

“We have a long tradition of incorporating music,” said Wedell. The new configuration would make it easier to incorporate those elements, he said.

“The current entrance to the sanctuary will converted into a new chapel,” he said.

Also in the plans is reconfiguring the entrance.

“Right now, it’s difficult to know what door you should use,” Wedell said.

He said the new main entrance would be handicap accessible. The current front entrance does not meet federal standards.
That entrance will open to a large gathering space for displays, small group use and fellowship.

Wedell said the building is already booked four nights a week. He said the church hosts English as a second language classes, 12-step programs and a square dance group, among others. He said he couldn’t think of a group affiliated with the church that didn’t include LGBT members.

The church had its start in the 1950s and has always been located at its current Midway Road location just north of Royal Lane. At the time, there was lots of open space in the area and large tracts of land were just being developed for housing.

The church is a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination. Wedell explained that congregations in the denomination have a national affiliation but strong local control. He called it the oldest indigenous U.S. Protestant denomination, formed in the 1800s from a merger of several smaller movements.
“As a small denomination, we’ve been involved far beyond our numbers in ecumenical work,” he said.

The congregation has about 200 active members.

“It all goes back to the vision our original members had for the church,” Peck said, “to make an impact far beyond the walls of the church.”

When Dallas first desegregated its school, members of Midway Hills voted to bus their own children. During the Vietnam War, the church became a Shalom or “peace” Congregation, and it was involved with resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Midway helped settle Afghan refugees.

“We helped them with housing and getting stabilized in the community,” Peck said.

In addition to its own congregation, a Peace Mennonite church hold services in the building early on Sunday morning and a new Latino congregation is also using the facility.

To raise the initial $400,000 and eventual $900,000 for additional renovations including resurfacing the parking lot, redesign of the peace garden, remodeling the restrooms and retrofitting the fire protection system, church leaders hope to reach out to the broader community.

“We’re contacting people and organizations we consider to be friends,” Wedell said. And over the years, the church has developed lots of friends.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens