There’s Florence, Italy, Florence, South Carolina, and closer to home and heart is the iconic Austin social advocate Florence Ponziano—the “Mother Teresa of Montopolis.”
If you visit 515 Kemp Street, you’ll find Florence’s Comfort House in Austin, Texas’ Montopolis community — a home providing healthy food, art, education, security, and most importantly, love to at-risk youth in the neighborhood. As Michael King of The Austin Chronicle said in his 2017 article, “Florence’s Comfort House stands out as a ‘Do-It-Herself’ miracle.”
Local and national awards won by Florence’s Comfort House include the “Against All Odds” Award (Washington, D.C.), the Texas House of Representatives Resolution Award, the “Keep Austin Beautiful” Award.
Florence has been named American Red Cross “Texas Heroes Finalist”, Eckerd’s Top 100 Women Finalist and received the VFW Volunteer Award, the Fox “Outstanding Community Service” Award, the Austin “Community Volunteer Award”, the KVUE “Five Who Care” Award, the “Service to Mankind” Award, the JC Penney “Golden Rule” Award and the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise “Achievement Against the Odds” Award.
Despite all these past accolades, Florence now desperately needs help to continue her work.
Florence’s Comfort House is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to local kids who need extra help. As she explains in this podcast, for almost 30 years, Florence has provided “light over darkness” to her kids and a “safe place” to thrive. She ensures they have necessary school supplies, healthy food, help with homework, toys, a library, gifts for the holidays, and artistic inspiration — involving the kids in creating garden art. Flo also teaches them how to be good citizens and give back to their community.
Karen Baker, a former teacher at Texas School for the Deaf, has worked to help Florence and her mission. “I met Florence over 25 years ago while volunteering in her neighborhood with Habitat for Humanity. She epitomizes the qualities of love, selflessness and compassion more than anyone else I know. Just like Mother Teresa, Florence has dedicated her entire life to helping others.”
But no home is immune to decline from the wear and tear of daily living; and the deterioration of Florence’s home has made Comfort House far from comfortable. With most of her money used to provide necessities for the kids she so loves, the safe space that has provided care for so many needs some care for itself. We’ve all heard the term “it takes a village” to care for children. Well, Comfort House needs that village to come and rescue it.
The walls and ceiling of Comfort House are falling down, as are the porch steps. Florence has no working stove, oven or microwave. She also needs a heater and window-unit air conditioners. She needs you!
Please consider donating to Florence’s Comfort House and the kids she helps every day via the Go Fund Me website. Or if you can donate appliances, building supplies, or labor, please contact the Go Fund Me campaign organizer using this link.
Cover: Easter fun at Florence’s Comfort House. Courtesy photo
K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but hates the word normal. Visit Romo at @klromo on Twitter, and @k.l.romo on Instagram.