The group hopes to raise $850,000 to build a new center with 19 private bedrooms and other facilities needed to host visitors overnight.
"We have people coming from all over the state, all over the nation," said Charles Wise, director of development for the house. "Most have the same core values as us. But they're thrown into an unempowered situation because of (a loved one's) stupid choices or criminal activity. They are victims, too."
More than 8,200 inmates are housed in Gatesville, including women on death row. They receive about 80,000 visitors per year, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Those statistics alone show the need for a ministry like the hospitality house, Wise said.
But its vision also is to serve people visiting prisons in nearby areas — namely Marlin, Burnet and San Saba.
The group knows the capital campaign will be a challenge, especially since some people bristle at the idea of even indirectly helping prisoners. But part of the strategy is to emphasize to churches — the most likely contributors — that the house's services are in line with biblical teachings, Wise said. ...
The group also is motivated by growing research that shows the positive ripple effects of prison visitation.
Not only are inmates more likely to stay out of trouble after their release, but their children are less likely to be locked up later in life.
That's good for families and society as a whole, said Tim Randolph, who helped start the house about a decade ago with area Baptists and now serves as director of the Waco Regional Baptist Association.
"There's an economic reason why churches and families should really be invested in these families and the offenders themselves," Randolph said. "I think you can argue that every dollar invested (at the house) will be multiplied."
Wallace Nelson, a state-employed prison chaplain who oversees the region that includes Gatesville, agreed.
Prisons offer a variety of programs aimed at rehabilitation and restoration, including marriage seminars and family days.
But far too many families don't attend such events because they can't afford to, he said.
"We recognize the days of just locking them up and throwing away the key are gone," Nelson said. "We have to prepare people to be useful citizens. One of the things we have really recognized is that offenders who have relationships with family or friends in the free world are most likely to make it. Everybody needs a support system."