SAN MARCOS – Sitting in a small room with institutional furniture that has seen better days, individuals wait until they are called to be witnesses in a trial for a violent offender. Sometimes they don’t know the person. Sometimes they are related or married to them.
Depending on the situation, those victims – including children as young as four – may spend hours in those rooms waiting to face the person who hurt them, hurt other people, or hurt those they love.
At the Hays County Government Center, those waiting rooms are the focus of a local nonprofit, Room2Hope.
The woman at the helm of the project, Denise Fonseca of Dripping Springs, sat in one of those rooms for hours on end in 2018 and 2019. She was a material witness in a felony case with a violent offender. As with so many others who pass through those rooms, this experience was deeply traumatizing and ultimately life altering.
“Waiting to testify in court in front of a violent felon is nerve-wracking,” Fonseca said. “As you attempt to stay calm and collect your thoughts while your heart is racing, you’re painfully aware of the uncomfortable chairs with the upholstery coming off, shabby carpets and drab-colored walls.”
In some ways, the room made her feel quite hopeless.
After her time waiting in those rooms, Fonseca embarked on a mission to change them into spaces where people going through some of the worst experiences of their lives could feel nurtured and comforted.
“I want them to find the courage to prepare to relive the trauma they experienced once they are in an open courtroom,” she said. “Changing the space could give them more confidence to endure what they’re about to face.”
Fonseca said allowing witnesses to sit in a space where they can feel calm and centered also offers the chance to provide the court with more credible and accurate testimony.
She said the support she’s found along this journey is encouraging.
“I’m grateful to the men and women of Hays County who have been supportive of this effort,” Fonseca said. “From the Sheriff’s Office to the District Attorney to the Commissioners Court and others I’ve met along the way, I could not have done this without all their help.”
She is using her restitution money to help fund these first two waiting rooms (one for adults, one for children) at the government center. Fonseca said Room2Hope would be grateful to accept community donations for the remodel as her restitution will not cover the full amount needed. After Hays County, she plans to bring the same changes to waiting areas in other nearby counties and potentially all 254 Texas counties.
“My vision is to eventually take Room2Hope to a national level,” she said.