Newsflash

Jane Cizik Garden Place

jane_cizikThe Women’s Home dedicated its newest facility, The Jane Cizik Garden Place, on January 13. The 87-unit, sober living apartment community is located in Spring Branch and serves women who live alone on a modest income. While The Women’s Home has provided temporary housing to women in crisis since 1957, The Jane Cizik Garden Place has extended the reach of the agency to include permanent housing for women who have completed the program.

Among the numerous attendees at the dedication were Mayor Annise Parker, City Council Member Brenda Stardig and the facility’s namesake, Jane Cizik. 

Cizik has been a volunteer at The Women’s Home for over 35 years. She began in the 1970s by teaching the women in the center how to sew. Soon thereafter, she was asked to become a board member, and began taking on more responsibilities. In the 1980s, she was the chairman of one of the home’s first capital campaigns. She served three years as board president and currently sits on the advisory board.

During the capital campaign for the Garden Place, Cizik’s husband, Robert, saw the opportunity to honor his wife’s long-time dedication to The Women’s Home. 

Cizik said, “One of the giving opportunities during the capital campaign was for the naming of the building. My husband was the one said, ‘Why don’t we do this? You have spent so much of your time and lifeblood with this home, it would be appropriate to have a part of it named after you.’ My jaw dropped and then I said, ‘Well, that would be lovely.’

”When Cizik spoke at the dedication, she said the feeling of  seeing her name on the building when she got out of her car was indescribable. During her short speech, she expressed her pride for the place and the agency. 

Later, she said, “I’m so proud of everyone at The Women’s Home for staying true to what they do best, to their mission. It just makes my heart warm to see that it has continued all these years with the same focus; and they haven’t spread themselves too thin to make the Home less effective. The Women’s Home is truly a gem in our community.”

Community is the cornerstone of the agency and the new facility. Most of the $11.1 million raised for the Garden Place was donated by private citizens like the Ciziks. However, Houston contributed $2 million, and Harris County gave another $1 million. 

In her remarks during the dedication, Mayor Parker emphasized that representatives from The Women’s Home went about the project for the new building in the right way to become a member of the Spring Branch community. Before they even broke ground, they had meetings with the neighbors, worked through their fears, addressed their concerns and showed them what was coming.

The result is a three story, gated community built around a large garden courtyard. The courtyard features a zen path, benches, topiary, sculptures, a fountain, and a patio with tables and chairs. The exterior of the building complements the gardens and mimics the sky with its pale blue and yellow paint.

In addition to the patio and gardens, the facility has a large common room, meditation room, computer lab, exercise room and laundry facilities. The single occupancy apartments range in size from 550 to 650 square feet. They feature major appliances, ceiling fans, mini-blinds, hardwood-like flooring and large walk-in closets. The rooms are all non-smoking, but residents are permitted to smoke in a large, screened gazebo in the courtyard. The building is also in the process of being Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified.

Though guests are required to sign in at the front desk, residents maintain their autonomy by freely entering and exiting through side gates around the property. The facility has around the clock monitoring and an on-site manager. Enrichment programs and other services are implemented. 

The goal of The Jane Cizik Garden Place is to serve as a model for supportive housing throughout the U.S. The Women’s Home has purchased the lot next door and plans to expand the facility, possibly to include family housing.To learn more, visit www.thewomenshome.org. 

Duvall to appear at benefit

Robert_DuvallHoustonians will be saddling up February 23 and riding on over to the Hilton Americas Hotel for an evening featuring a live interview with legendary actor Robert Duvall, celebrating the Texas epic mini-series Lonesome Dove and benefiting Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Festivities begin at 6:15 p.m. and continue on until 9:30 p.m.

The Academy Award, Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner will take the stage to share memories of his role as character Augustus “Gus” McCrae, in a live interview conducted by Bob Schieffer, moderator of Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer and former anchor of the CBS Evening News. 

Houston philanthropists Lester and Sue Smith will chair the seventh annual Evening with a Legend dinner, presented by Wells Fargo.

The Lester and Sue Smith Foundation will generously match every dollar raised at the event, which benefits pediatric genomic cancer research conducted at Texas Children’s Cancer Center, the Number 1 pediatric cancer center in Texas as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.Guests will hear personal stories from Duvall and relive the epic story of two former Texas rangers and their adventures driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana. Duvall has stated in several forums, including on CBS Sunday Morning, that his role as Augustus “Gus” McCrae was his personal favorite.

All proceeds from An Evening with a Legend benefit research at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Children come to the cancer center from across the nation and around the world for state-of-the art treatments, many of which are unavailable elsewhere.

To learn more about Texas Children’s Cancer Center, visit www.txccc.org.For more information about An Evening with a Legend, visit www.texaschildrens.org/legend. To reserve a table, please call Jayne Dumolt at 832-824-6818. Tables start at $3000; individual tickets are $300 each.

Stuck on Sticky Notes

StickyNotes2People often ask: Where do you get ideas for your columns? Well, this one came to me during the cool down after my step class. In between calling out commands to stretch our calf muscles, our young instructor, Sabra, lamented that she’s starting to forget things. 

“I’m now dependent on sticky notes to keep my life in order,” she groaned as we relaxed the biceps in our upper arms.

She feared her gray matter was having too many gray moments.  

Nervous laughter swept through the class of 20, all over the age of 30-something. In between exhales, I smiled and gave her a knowing nod. I’ve survived for years thanks to sticky notes, to-do lists and e-mail reminders. My motto: The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory. 

I’ve made peace with having to write everything down. In fact, I had to write down the idea for this column as soon as I got home from class, or I would have forgotten it. Many in my circle of girlfriends share this malady. We’ve discovered as life gets busier, it’s harder and harder to remember simple things. We rack our brains to recall the name of an actor we saw in a movie last night. Wonder if we left the milk on the counter. We forget where we put car keys, cell phones and, sometimes for a moment or two, even our kids. 

I used to fret about losing my memory, but I don’t any more. With age-earned wisdom, I liken sporadic forgetfulness to a baseball catcher’s overload. With a job, a husband, kids, dogs and a book club, there are simply too many balls to snatch. The less urgent stuff – buying stamps, taking out the trash or fertilizing the roses — occasionally drops out of my mitt. That’s not a sign dementia is my next stop on the train ride of life. 

There’s no shame in relying on a system — even if it’s made up of colorful scraps of paper — to help you remember to turn off the flatiron or pick up poster board at the drug store. There are lots of mornings I jot down a to-do list before I’ve gotten out of bed. I stash a pad and pencil in my nightstand drawer for that reason. Random notes to remind me to: e-mail Cathy about a book I just finished, figure out what movie theaters are near Houston before I buy a gift card for my nephew or pull the pot roast out of the freezer so we can eat before eight tonight.

So, what if I can’t remember the name of Dan Brown’s newest book (The Lost Symbol) or the collective term for a group of turtles (a dole). I’ve already apologized to my teammates for our third place finish in last month’s trivia challenge. I should have remembered the book title. I don’t think I ever knew the turtle term, though.

For decades my head’s CPU has been bombarded with information. My computer-like brain is always on the job, processing data gathered from my thousands of days on this earth. When I was 12, it was so much easier. I barely had a decade of life under my belt. Twelve years of fact and fiction to keep straight. Maybe three contemporary U.S. Presidents and four Beatles to remember. There was lots of room in my head to memorize state capitals, multiplication tables and words for a spelling test. Homework was my brainteaser.

If there was something important I needed to do, my Mom reminded me. Back then I had maybe 50 people in my life, including schoolmates, aunts, uncles and TV characters. Nowadays, more folks than that follow me on Twitter. 

As the years pile up, so does the minutia. Names, places, computer programs, all vying for a spot in the mind’s filing cabinet. It’s an ongoing battle to determine what’s worth remembering, what can be retrieved by a Google search and what to delete from your cerebral hard drive. No one keeps track of everything. And why would we want to when there are notepads, calendars and other memory-saving shortcuts at our beck-and-call? 

More power to those of us who’ve joyfully embraced our yellow and pink sticky notes as a white flag of surrender. We fight back by keeping our minds sharp and our pencils sharper. There was one more thing I was going to add, but I forgot what it was. Guess I should have written it down.

Red Light Cameras

RedLightNewA federal judge issued an injunction November 26 to keep Houston’s 70 red light cameras from coming down — three weeks after voters elected to turn them off. 

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes’ injunction will ensure the city continues to ticket and collect fines from red light runners caught on camera through November 15 –– the date Mayor Annise Parker announced the lights were turned off, following the defeat of a referendum to continue their use. The injunction is in response to a contract dispute filed by the city against American Traffic Solutions, the company that installed and maintained the cameras, and a countersuit by ATS against the city.

Houston has had red light cameras in place at several major intersections since the fall of 2006. Since then, they have resulted in ticketing of 800,000 drivers for a total of $44 million in fines, of which ATS was entitled to a commission of $1.75 per ticket. In September 2010 alone, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company earned $31,000 from more than 17,000 tickets issued here in Houston citywide. 

The battle against the devices began last summer with the formation of Citizens Against Red Light Cameras, a political action committee headed by criminal attorney Randall Kubosh, his mother, Francis, and his two brothers. Paul Kubosh, an attorney who specializes in traffic court cases, and Michael Kubosh, a former minister and currently owner of a bail bonding company, are the others involved. 

The family-run PAC fought to have a charter amendment banning the cameras placed on the November ballot. The wording on the ballot read, “Shall the City continue to use red light cameras to enforce state and local laws relating to traffic safety?” 

A Special Purpose Committee Campaign Finance Report shows more than $210,000 donated to Keep Houston Safe, which supported a campaign for the continued use of cameras. Of that, ATS contributed $150,000. 

A poll conducted by Rice University’s Bob Stein prior to the election showed 55 percent of voters were in favor of keeping the red light cameras in place. On November 2, the amendment to maintain the cameras failed by a 53.2 percent margin, but the contract dispute underway in federal court has put the voters’ mandate in limbo. 

By Judge Hughes’ order, cameras will remain in place until the litigation is finalized. 

The city’s contract with ATS stipulates that the company is paid $2,395 per month for each of the 70 cameras at 50 major intersections –– more than $167,000 total –– and that a four-month notice must be given to cancel the contract, which was scheduled to run until 2014. The extra expense to honor the contract could cost the city $668,000 at a time when it is already facing a budget shortfall of $70 million. 

At about the same time as the ruling regarding the contract dispute with Houston, ATS also celebrated a unanimous ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding a lower court’s ruling on the legality of the payment structure in contracts between municipalities and private contractors to provide equipment and support services for automated traffic enforcement systems. 

Houston is the bellwether battle as the state legislature is also taking a look at the legality of red-light camera use, says Michael Kubosh. That’s why ATS is fighting so hard to keep the Houston cameras in place, he added. 

The City of Houston really doesn’t want them removed because of the revenue stream they provide, despite the voters’ mandate, Kubosh said, and whatever the outcome in federal court, an appeal from either side is likely. 

“The citizens of Houston should be very concerned that the city attorney is providing a weak defense for the voters,” says Kubosh. “I see trickery. [The City] and the red light camera company want the same thing. They want the cameras back up and making money.”  

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, red light running is the leading cause of urban automobile crashes. In 2004, more than 900 people were killed in the U.S. and an estimated 168,000 were injured in crashes involving red light running. Statistics from the Houston-Galveston Area Council show that red light accidents in the Houston area account for approximately $225 million per year in total comprehensive cost.

Deborah Quinn Hensel is the news editor of Houston Woman Magazine. To contact her, send email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

La Maison in Midtown

SharonGenoraWith a bit of planning, patience and determina-tion, an attainable goal can become a stunning reality. Just ask Sharon Owens and Genora Boykins, long-time friends and business partners, who found this to be true as they worked towards opening La Maison in Midtown, an urban bed and breakfast.

In the late 1990s, the two observed that development was being planned for Third Ward and Midtown and decided to purchase a piece of property. The women wanted to do something with the property that would meet a need in the community. After learning Houston was lacking adequate hotel accommodations – it was said this was in part why large conventions never came to Houston – they researched the hospitality industry and started planning to build, open and operate a bed and breakfast.

“We thought opening a bed and breakfast would be a nice way to get involved and engaged in what was going on in Houston at the time,” said Owens.

In 1999, Boykins stumbled across a piece of land at the corner of Brazos and Drew that was up for sale. 

After speaking with the real estate agent, they purchased the land. Even though Midtown was not nearly as popular or populated as it is today, it seemed the ideal place to build. 

“The key of real estate development is location, location, location,” Boykins said. “It was really about seeing what was planned for the future and trying to be in the right place at the right time.” 

With land secured, Owens and Boykins started taking steps to make their vision a reality. Both holding full-time jobs, they knew this project would take a fair amount of time to complete. Owens is vice president of corporate community relations for CenterPoint Energy and Boykins is general counsel for Reliant Energy.

Having previous development experience, Boykins knew they would face the same challenges any other entity wanting to build new construction would encounter. The two were determined to stick it out together. 

“It took perseverance, patience, relationships, prayer and finding the right people who understood the business and would be willing to lend their talents to help us make it a reality,” said Owens. 

The next four years were spent learning the industry, researching travel industry trends and creating a land plan. They also retained an architect to create the building’s design concept. In 2004 they created La Maison in Midtown Ltd., to provide a legal structure suitable for building, owning and operating the business. 

From 2004 to 2007, the pair focused on creating a financial plan, securing investors and trying to obtain financing. Both admit coming up with a bankable deal was one of the most challenging parts of this process. Many of the lenders they approached suggested other uses for the land, such as building and selling town homes. One lender lost the paperwork and transferred them between various loan officers. 

During this time they secured a contractor, DMAC Construction, that was able to recommend a bank and Small Business Association (SBA) lender. Receiving commitment letters from this bank and SBA lender, financing was secured in March 2008. 

The next several months were spent obtaining architectural plans to complete the permitting process. This was another trying time — many changes to the design were made to comply with building codes that, through the course of this process, had changed.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held in April 2009. Construction on the building began in June 2009 and was completed in May 2010. The occupancy permit was then issued, and La Maison in Midtown hosted its first guests this summer. 

“Had we built the B&B within three to five years of purchasing the property, the surrounding development in Midtown would not have been conducive to support our vision,” Boykins said. “We remained both prayerful and hopeful that when the B&B was complete Midtown would be a robust community, and it appears that the timing was just right.”

Eleven years after first acquiring the land, La Maison in Midtown stands as a three-story New Orleans-style bed and breakfast. The seven-room escape in the city offers its guests southern hospitality with the warmth of home and convenience of a boutique hotel. 

“It is a great feeling when a guest says, ‘This is so wonderful and relaxing,’” Owens said. “It really validates what we were trying to do.” 

Whether a business or leisure traveler, staycationing family or getting-away girlfriends, Owens and Boykins hope that guests ultimately find rest and relaxation as they make themselves comfortable in this cozy little home away from home. 

Kim James is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

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