Casa de Katie Report

Spring–Summer 2011
submitted by Lawrence Nielsen

Rio Bravo Situation

The security situation in Rio Bravo has been better for the last several months even though the cities to the West are still experiencing signifiant violence.  No new cases of house burnings or assaults have occurred recently in the colonia where Casa de Katie is located.  The new city government seems to be trying to clean up the city using work crews and having the Transit Police take more control of the traffic situation.  Military patrols and Federal Police are still in evidence in the city.  There has been a large number of people settling in Rio Bravo and the whole border area because of the increased deportations from the US.  The situation for families living in the colonias in and around Rio Bravo does not seem to be improving.  Our impression is that there is more hunger and poverty here than when Casa de Katie started 6-7 years ago.

Spring Program

Our major tutoring program drew 40 to 50 primary school students and operated mornings and afternoons.  Director Mary implemented a “round table” scheme for helping the large number of students.  This was necessary because many days she was the only tutor present.  The scheme consisted of Mary sitting at the center of a collection of tables surrounding her so that she could attend to students on all sides as they needed her.  She was able to help students with all their school subjects and projects in this way.

The critical problem with the tutoring program is that there are only a few tutors that help Mary with the large number of students needing help.  Years ago when Casa de Katie had financial backing from outside, the tutors received compensation for their time, but now the few tutors we have are volunteers and thus not very reliable.  Last year we were able to attract three tutors who completed their high school social service requirement by tutoring at Casa de Katie.  Hopefully we will have several more tutors this Fall through this program.  We have had no success in attracting mothers as tutors since there is no incentive for them to spend several hours out of their day.

When students are finished with their school assignments, they are permitted to play at the many activities and games we have now available for them.  We have started to teach as many students as possible to play chess.  In addition to that, there is Chinese checkers, Monopoly, Life, checkers, dominoes, ping pong, fussball, air hockey, dollhouse, Legos, wood blocks, Uno, Twister and others.  The games are intended to socialize the students and teach various life values as well as serving as a reward for finishing their homework.

To put these activities in perspective, it must be understood that the majority of the students have no home conditions to do their homework and no exposure to the socializing activities that are given at Casa de Katie.  These programs have an enormous impact on these students’ behavior and their appreciation for education.

Students from junior high have frequently been using the Casa de Katie internet connection to complete their school assignments.

The tablet computers donated by Rob Foree are the main units being used for access to the internet.  A wireless transmitter is installed on the tower above Casa de Katie and its signal carries to the primary school where the director Felipe Ayala connects to the internet through our signal.

A limited number of students also participated in woodworking, electronics repair, guitar lessons and science investigations. These programs are still in the development stage.

Summer Activities

At the beginning of the summer, Casa de Katie issued membership cards to the children participating in the programs.  This was done mainly to give the children the feeling that they belonged and had a stake in Casa de Katie.  The children sign their cards under the list of responsibilities expected of them.  This simple procedure seems to have had a positive effect at least in terms of being a proud member.   It also makes very clear that Casa de Katie is en educational institution and that members must put their education first, all others need not show up.

Summer school consisted of reading and math time.  Director Mary initiated morning reading sessions for between 15 and 25 students (see attached photo).  When that was finished, the group was allowed to play games for a time and then Mary finished the morning with a math session.  The students were evaluated for their reading level.  The emphasis was on the importance of reading for academic success.  Mary also took the students on a field trip to the Casa de Cultura, a restored over two hundred year old hacienda in the center of town, where they were given a tour and had a picnic.

Building Condition

Casa de Katie is in need of several urgent repairs.  The walls in the kitchen are mostly eaten away by termites.  The kitchen serving window glass was broken and must be replaced.  Some work remains to be done on the roof to avoid water coming into the education room.  The water tank on the roof needs a new cover.  Apparently the tank has been without a cover for a very long time and the tank had accumulated a great amount of dirt and debris.  The tank was cleaned but still needs to repair the water pipe connections.  An air conditioning unit burned out and needs repair or replacement.  It is critical since it cools the internet room.  At some point in the future, the wooden walls of the building will have to be replaced preferably by blocks and cement.  An estimate for fixing the urgent items is $240 and more if the air conditioner has to be replaced.  The long term expenditures will probably be in the thousands of dollars.


Director Mary will start this Fall her studies at the Universidad Tamaulipeca in the area of “psicopedagogia” which is teaching psychology.  Her studies are being funded by Sam Birchall.  She will be entering the Saturday only program and will still be full time at Casa de Katie during the weekdays.

Rodolfo Hinajosa will continue this Fall at Casa de Katie as tutor and instructor in electronics repair and science.  Rodolfo has his own successful electronics repair business and has made valuable contributions this year to Casa de Katie and is an especially good role model for the students.

Larry Nielsen is Director Mary’s assistant helping her carry out programs and finding resources.

Financial Situation

As of August 1, Casa de Katie has only a $42 telephone bill to pay.  The phone company cut the line last week because of the overdue bill.   We are month-to-month in finding resources to pay the light, water and phone/internet bills.  The families using Casa de Katie are generally unable to contribute to the upkeep because their incomes are so low even for those holding a steady job in one of the border assembly plants.  The average plant worker earns about $70 per week and supports several people.

There doesn’t seem to be adequate financial resources in Rio Bravo for Casa de Katie.  We plan to make an appeal, as was done in the past, to the Lyons Club, the Rotary Club and anyone else we can contact.  Mary has some contacts with organizations such as Democracia con Transparencia and they have helped with some past bills, but we need to find other groups who are willing to sponsor us.  At the present time many of the bills and other needs are paid for by Sam and Larry including Mary’s monthly salary of $256.


Casa de Katie has benefited in the past by many donations.  The donations were either distributed to needy families, sold for money to pay expenditures or used at Casa de Katie in the kitchen, education room, internet room, etc.  We again are asking for donations and some suggested items are:

children’s clothing from baby to teens, kitchen items of every type, toys especially Legos & blocks & K-neks & games, musical instruments like guitars, tools especially a jigsaw and table saw, electrical items, TVs, furniture, fans and building material

Donations will be gathered up in Austin for delivery to Rio Bravo.

Tentative Plans for the Fall

We will not be able to increase the tutor program unless we find suitable tutors.  Mary is at or over her limit with the number of students needing help.  It is very likely that we will only be able to maintain the program at its present level.  The need is much greater than what we can provide.  The two new colonias that have been built next to Casa de Katie have swamped the neighborhood educational system.  Casa de Katie could easily be 3-4 times bigger to meet the needs of these new families.

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