For more than two decades the Zwicks have helped thousands of Latin American immigrants make the transition to life in the United States. What began as a humble shelter for refugees from war-torn Central America has evolved into a multifaceted operation that includes two health clinics, a labor hall and clothes- and food-distribution components. Casa Juan Diego, located on Lillian Street just south of Washington Avenue, houses as many as 150 immigrants a day, among them paraplegics, AIDS patients and others with serious health problems. Supported by donations, the center offers orientation and support to those who have recently arrived in the States. More than 100 day laborers assemble each morning at St. Joseph the Worker Labor Hall on Shepherd to seek jobs in construction, gardening, house-painting -- whatever comes around. The efficient operation provides contractors with much-needed labor while protecting the workers' right to a fair wage. Some 300 families receive rice, beans, corn, cabbage, tortillas and other staples at Casa's two food-distribution sites, while scores of uninsured patients get medical attention at the health clinics. "This is our life," says Mark Zwick of the couple's work.
Kay's Lounge
Walk into this dive, and you're surrounded by beer and boys. The walls are papered in beer ads, and hanging over the Texas-shaped table is a faux Tiffany lamp advertising Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller Lite. Around the Texas table are men, men, men. Men in lumberjack plaids, men in jeans, men in hiking boots. Real Texas men singing along with the Willie Nelson tune playing on the jukebox. These are guys who understand what Merle Haggard means when he says the bottle let him down. These true Texan studs are strong, smart and sensitive enough to listen to the lyrics and know all the words. The girl-to-guy ratio is usually about ten to one. (Who can lose to those odds? Especially since the beer flows so freely here that they broke the Shiner tap.) It's not a place where a girl on the make has to put on three-inch platforms and an uncomfortable black dress. All she has to wear is her cute sneakers, jeans, a tight little tank top and a big Texas smile.
Richard Burr is the veteran Houston attorney who devoted his intellect and emotions to fighting the death penalty long before Governor George Bush's run for president made the issue a hot-button topic with the national media. Burr started his career as a public defender in Florida and became director of the Capital Punishment Project of the NAACP. After moving to Houston, Burr joined the defense team for accused killer Gary Graham in 1993 and waged a determined, if unsuccessful, fight that ended with the recent execution of the man later known as Shaka Sankofa. Burr served as litigation director for the Texas Resource Center, a clearinghouse agency that secures representation for death row inmates, until leaving in 1995 to represent Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy McVeigh. After the resource center died for lack of funding, Burr and his wife, Mandy Welch, organized the Texas Defenders Service, which carries on the mission to represent death row prisoners. Houston attorney Mike Charlton, a death penalty opponent recently named attorney of the year by the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, offers this tribute to Burr: "Absolutely the smartest lawyer I know. His thought processes and ideas [in capital cases] carry more weight than any other lawyer in the state of Texas."
Sometimes referred to as the Flower Man, Cleveland Turner is a former drunk who slipped the grip of booze by promising God he'd dedicate his life as a sober man to creating a place of uncommon beauty. God must have held him to the vow, because Turner's home and yard in the Third Ward are a cacophony of flowers, fruit trees and vegetable plants, discarded musical instruments and scavenged oddities that, when considered in sum, constitute one of the city's most engaging folk-art displays. Earlier this year, though, the city's public works and legal departments threatened to fine Turner for encroaching on the sidewalk and drainage ditches in front of his house. Turner made another promise: He'd "rot in jail" before he'd alter his artistic vision to appease a small group of philistines from City Hall. While pressure from neighbors and folk-art enthusiasts, who say Turner's creations are one-of-a-kind, tempered the city's position, the Flower Man was forced to make a few concessions. With cookie-cutter developers ferociously altering the character of inner-city neighborhoods like the Third Ward, it's appropriate to wonder how much longer something so far from mainstream sensibility will survive. Our advice is to see Cleveland Turner's house while you can.READERS' CHOICE: Tie: NASA/ Kemah Boardwalk

After the death of 51-year Democratic incumbent Carl Smith, former corporate salesman and GOP Harris County treasurer Paul Bettencourt ran a political gauntlet to win the post. After Commissioner Steve Radack pushed the appointment of former Oilers defensive back Willie Alexander through the court, supporters on the county GOP Executive Committee put Bettencourt on the ballot instead. He trounced his Democratic opposition easily, and Willie had to hit the road. Following that controversial start, Bettencourt has established his credentials as an innovator by upgrading the tax assessor-collector's computer system, hitting the neighborhood-association and community-organization speaking circuit, and reaching out to minority politicians and civic leaders. Bettencourt also has aggressively pursued so-called tax factors, lawyers and accountants who offer to recover tax overpayments for property owners in exchange for a percentage of the money. In most cases, the homeowners themselves could have easily collected the refund, had they only known how. Other pols see more than just good government as his motivation. With County Judge Robert Eckels rumored to be looking for a statewide post to run for in the coming election cycle, Bettencourt is in an excellent position to move up the Harris County food chain as well. If the dominoes fall into place, his public relations efforts could lay the groundwork for a major political promotion.

The long arm of the law has permanently broken up that old gang of Kingwood High School convenience-store banditas whose rampage for cash and cigarettes earned them face time on such national news shows as 20-20 and 48 Hours. The trio most involved in the series of five robberies -- Krystal Maddox, Lisa Warzeka and Katie Dunn -- took their chances with jury trials and each drew seven-year tickets to prison. Michelle Morneau, the girl with the smallest role in the crime spree and the one who cooperated with police, pled out for a ten-year probation, a stint in boot camp and 2,000 hours of community service. Morneau will spend part of that community time at the Kingwood Public Library, where she will no doubt serve as a poster girl warning the bored, overaffluent teens of that bedroom community that some walks on the wild side are not worth the price.
Brian Copeland is definitely the nicest landlord in town. He owns five area properties, but he has scaled down and sold a few apartment houses so that he and his partner, Tyler, can spend more time with their adorable son. Most landlords are just people who collect your rent check. When you call Brian, he actually cares about what's going on in your life and not just what's wrong with your apartment. When the heat didn't work, he was out the next day, worried we might be too cold. When we accidentally permanently locked our front door (don't ask) Tyler came right by, took the door off the hinges and fixed it. When the washing machine was broken for two weeks, Brian told us to drop our laundry by his house, and he'd do it for us. Brian and Tyler are the kind of people who smile when they see you coming. They're the kind of landlords who make you want to share your beer.
By now, any TV buff knows this show. Diverse characters come together under demanding conditions and fend for themselves on a remote island. Darwinism depletes their numbers as the weak-willed get culled -- voted off the island -- while others thrive on the primal challenges for their tribes. Survivor scored big in the summer season on Channel 11. But by the time it aired, the station was already painfully aware of its own Survivor scenario. Veteran anchors vanished, voluntarily or otherwise. Sage Steve Smith shipped out, Sylvan Rodriguez succumbed to cancer, and Marlene McClinton made her exit in a surprise on-the-air resignation. Also gone were Charles Hadlock and Clare Casademont. Rival stations were certain that viewer ratings would be the vote that cast this beleaguered station off its island. However, they didn't think a relative unknown would step forward to rally the KHOU troops. Lisa Foronda arrived in '97 after weekend-anchor stints in minor markets. Foronda was destined, it seemed, to be little more than an attractive accessory to what KHOU saw as its savior: Greg Hurst, a reputed network news heavyweight brought in from New York. Over the course of the next year, Hurst wowed nobody. But Foronda carried him, and lifted the rest of the news operation even more. How? For one, she's smart, in a rare common sense sort of way. She's serious about the news, and that's something that viewers don't see much of these days. But she also doesn't take herself too seriously, a fresh and welcome trait in the pompous world of TV news. Working your way up from places like West Texas can instill humility. And being matched with a hollow hair-head like Hurst shows that distinction so clearly. Some of the rival newsrooms, in trying to explain how Channel 11's ratings remained respectable, speak in awe about the "Foronda factor" at work. This leader of the survivors is every insider's choice for leader on an anchor desk -- or a remote island, for that matter.
This annual members-only party takes place in early summer, but blessedly, it's during the cool of evening, when it's pleasant to stroll the grounds. Stuff your offspring full of free hot dogs, sodas and ice cream. Sway to the reggae band. Watch the clown wobble on stilts and juggle flaming sticks. Or -- oh, yeah -- look at the animals.

Essaying New Yorker Phillip Lopate (track down a copy of his out-of-print "Against Joie de Vivre") spent eight years, from 1980 to 1988, living and working and teaching in Houston, so he must have seemed a defensible choice when the editors of the New York Times Magazine assigned him to revisit his old stomping grounds for its February 27, 2000, issue of "The Sophisticated Traveller." Lopate's travel essay -- situated alongside pieces by Robert Stone (British Columbia) and Francine Prose (New Castle, Delaware) -- made a relatively flattering case for Houston as an architectural mecca (Rice professor Stephen Fox, natch, is quoted), and even tosses our town a barely deserved bone regarding our perpetual second-string complex: In the 1980s, Lopate writes, Houston had seemed "almost pathetically anxious to become a 'world-class city,' " but today, "now that it no longer cares about being accepted as a world-class city, Houston has a much better chance of being perceived as one." Well, maybe. But the accuracy of Lopate's perception here is just a niggle. You have to read deeper into the story to get to the real head-scratcher. Lopate, like everyone else, is all atitter over our new downtown, with its lofts and coffee shops, where citizens may finally grab a bite or drink after imbibing some of the Theater District's blue-chip culture. "Or," Lopate writes, "they can stroll along the Buffalo Bayou, one of the many streams that run through the city. Ah yes, Houston's famous streams. Sims, White Oak, Green's, Brays -- the names just trickle off the tongue like spring water flowing through what we Houstonians have so long mistaken for mere drainage ditches. Reminds us of Lopate's out-of-print book of poetry: The Eyes Don't Always Want to Stay Open.

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