Jacquelyn Reed, the founder of the Westside Health Authority, the venerable Austin nonprofit, and pastor of Every Block a Village Church, spent three days over Labor Day weekend on the corner of Madison and Central avenues, outside of Emmett School.

One encounter stuck with her, she said. 

“One man was homeless and on his way to hurt a relative,” Reed recalled. “He was redirected at the gate and came inside of the gate and decided to stand guard for us all night.” 

Reed said another man, a 63-year-old drug addict “looking for hope” stayed with the women, as well. 

She said there were 20 women who gathered outside of the school, off and on, between Sept. 4 through Sept. 6 — praying and fasting for the West Side. 

“It was a very spiritual occasion of us pouring out love and Godly wisdom to the crowd that came out,” she said. 

The Labor Day prayer vigil was the second one this summer. The women also gathered outside of Emmett over the Independence Day weekend.

Kernetha Jones, a retired school teacher who slept outside of Emmett in July echoed Reed’s observation. 

“The group broke up fights in the middle of the night,” Jones said. “Men listen to older women and don’t want to shoot around them. They are reminded of their mothers.” 

Reed said the prayer vigils originated after the Westside Health Authority lost a bid to redevelop the Laramie State Bank building, as part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative. The mayor’s initiative is designed to spur private investment in historically blighted communities like Austin. 

Reed said after losing out on the Laramie Bank building project, the nonprofit started holding community members every Thursday. 

“As we were fighting to get the building and praying, God said, ‘Don’t worry about that building.’ The building God’s concerned about is not the building that houses things, but the building that houses souls — our bodies. He’s concerned about people.” 

Reed said the nonprofit has since shifted its focus toward redeveloping the vacant Emmett School, which Westside Health Authority purchased in 2018. 

The nonprofit has a goal of raising about $10,000 before securing grants in order to transform the school into a manufacturing center and a hub of community activity.

“We have pledges for Emmett from the government of around $15 million, but the first dollars we’ve raised for that building have come from the community and that’s so important,” Reed said. 

Those looking to donate to the Emmett School redevelopment effort can contact Reed at: mrsreed@att.net