By Gabriel Gelb

As exemplified by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it means that one man—or one church—can make a vast difference in the lives of those who are not as fortunate as we are. Dr. King’s work culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

And one church can make a difference, using our moral authority to remedy an injustice. An excellent example at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church is its formation of the Harris County Drug Court Foundation. The Foundation financially supports the Harris County Drug Courts, also called the STAR program.

When the Harris County Commissioners Court established the Drug Court, it provided no funding for the $6,500-per-person costs of treatment under the supervision of a criminal courts judge.

That $6,500 cost compares to the $16,000-per-year cost of incarcerating one addict (who may leave state jail just as addicted as when he or she arrived).

HCDCF president Deborah Keyser said,


We have now graduated over 430 clients from the STAR program who have re-entered their families and society as productive citizens.  Harris County was extremely fortunate that Emerson immediately grasped the importance and the magnitude of what the STAR program was attempting to achieve and was so pro-active in their approach to providing necessary funding.  We are one of the only specialty Courts in the State of Texas with it’s own private Foundation that takes an active role in providing necessities such as transitional housing, transportation and counseling.  This wouldn’t have happened without Emerson’s foresight.  We can’t say ‘thank you’ enough!

The Harris County Drug court has a re-arrest rate of 7.8% for graduates compared to over 50% for jailed inmates.  In this photo, Judge Mike Anderson, since deceased, is hugging one of the graduates of the 12 to 14-month program

So Emerson members stepped up to the plate and organized the Drug Court Foundation to provide funds for addicted adults to master their drug habit.

We formed the first board of directors and acitvely solicited funding. The Catholic Archdiocese gave us $10,000 for our startup and the St. Phillip’s Presbyterian Church put the foundation in its annual budget for $1,000 continuing support.

Now the Drug Court is largely financed through private donations and an annual breakfast attended by hundreds of judges and attorneys.

Yes, one church can make a huge difference.  At Emerson Church, we practice our first principle:  “To affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”