In her office, surrounded by photos of family, remnants of her past, and varying images of Mickey Mouse, Betty Nickerson, founder of Palestine's Multicultural Education Center, beams with pride and radiates love.
Small wonder. On a bare-bones annual budget of $40,000, MCEC and its volunteers provide a wider ranges of programs for the poor than any other agency, public or private, in Anderson County.
A one-stop shop for those in need, the MCEC provides free GED classes, food, gasoline vouchers, clothing, and furniture. It houses a community garden, crisis center, and resale shop.
Now, however, a rotting roof jeopardizes those services. The roof is in danger of collapse, and with it, Nickerson's ability to help the needy.
Without a new roof, the agency also cannot move forward with plans to convert the building into a job training center and expand the center and thrift shop.
Harsh Texas weather, age, and second-rate carpentry equipment have taken their toll on the MCEC building, 1402 West Oak.
“Apparently, the wrong nails were used when the roof was put on,” Nickerson told the Herald-Press Tuesday. “The water is seeping around the head of the nails, and rotting out the roof underneath. It's damaging the building and our ceilings.”
Depending entirely on proceeds from the resale shop, individual donations, and grants from the United Way and Walmart, the non-profit agency helps more than 200 people a month.
MCEC's $40,000 annual budget has no place for a costly roof replacement project, which will run thousands of dollars. Nickerson is getting quotes to determine repair costs.
No one does more good for less than Nickerson.
“In my family, we were taught to give from an early age,” Nickerson said. “If we have it, and you need it, it's yours. It always comes back, at least a hundred fold.”
Along with her late sister, Ella-May Smith, Nickerson, 81, formed Henry Smith Families Inc., in 1981, which includes the MCEC.
“If you are in need, have no money, or even just got out of jail or prison, we can help,” Nickerson she said, walking through her garage-bay-sized showroom of donated, gently used merchandise. “We'll give you three sets of clothes, from skivvies on up to help you out.
“Of course we could use more donations to help us fix the roof,” Nickerson said. “We could also use more volunteers. I trust in God, though; he will provide. In my mind, it's already happened.”
Unlike many charities, the MCEC does not require tax-returns, check-stubs, or even ID cards. The goods and services Nickerson and her volunteer staff of about half-a-dozen provide are available to all, simply for the asking.
If you would like to donate to MCEC, make checks payable to:
Multi-Cultural Education Center, 1402 W. Oak St., Palestine, Texas 75801.
For information, or to volunteer, call 903-729-3488.