Mariposa Family Learning Center

Mariposa FLC Welcomes New Advancement Director!

Mariposa Family Learning Center, the 2-Gen childcare effort developed by Austin City Lutherans, opened its doors in SE Austin on January 30, 2020. Covid-related difficulties temporarily shut down Mariposa FLC in March, but the facility reopened in August with its mission intact: to serve low-income families with top-notch childcare and educational programming.

A silver lining of the pandemic, if there is such a thing, has been the availability of emergency grants to help non-profits survive. Mariposa has had a very good year attaining more than $120,000 from granting agencies outside of the Austin City Lutherans’ network of congregations. These grants, along with donations and gifts from within the ACL network, have helped Mariposa move forward through a trying first year. The grant-writing team that I lead – consisting of ACL Treasurer Steve Zwernemann, Debbie Seeger, Milt Nielsen, and Mariposa Director Sheila Pharis – has done exceptional work.

To keep this good momentum going, Mariposa’s governing board recently hired a part-time director of advancement to work not only with the grant-writing team, but also to spearhead additional fundraising efforts: special events, including an annual fund drive, and strategies to attract corporate, philanthropic and individual giving. Mariposa received numerous applications for the position and settled upon a professional with seventeen years’ experience in the non-profit sector and plenty of enthusiasm for Mariposa’s mission.

Patsy Harris (pictured) is the new director of advancement for Mariposa Family Learning Center. Mariposa and Ms. Harris, in many ways, are a very good match. I asked her a few questions about what attracted her to Mariposa.

“I have an appreciation for the social barriers that prevent communities of color from accessing quality education, health care, and jobs.”

Patsy grew up in a military family, and majored in business and political science at Sam Houston State. She’s also an alumna of Texas State University, where she earned her master’s degree in public administration. Currently, she’s working on a master’s in strategic management and executive leadership at Penn State University. Patsy is the mother of three young-adult children; she enjoys reading, running, and spending time with her children.

Mariposa’s commitment to a 2-Gen approach – working alongside parents through support and educational programming as a strategy to enhance their children’s access to opportunities – stands out for Patsy. “Economics and language shouldn’t be barriers for children.” A 2-Gen approach, she says, “empowers parents to be advocates for their children’s education.”

A person of faith, Patsy balances work, motherhood, volunteering, and studies. She’s also a cancer survivor. Two foundational faith understandings – inclusion and servant-leadership – dictate how she operates in the world. “I know it sounds cliché, but it’s very true,” she told me as if pointing to her guiding North Star. “We are all God’s children.” Her verbal delivery of these five words – slow and emphatic – made their meaning transcend the cliché.

Three years ago, ACL had the vision to raise up an early childhood development effort from its existing ministry, Bread For All Food Pantry. The vision was an answer to the question that emerged as ACL leaders saw children in the food lines with their parents: What could ACL do as its best effort to prevent or mitigate the damaging effects of childhood poverty? Early childhood development was a great response to the question – but there was no location, staff, nor budget by which to carry out this proposed vital ministry.

Thanks be to God for incredible ACL supporters, volunteers, and churches who committed themselves to carry out this vision. A location was secured, specific plans were implemented, and God’s people stepped up. More than $200,000 was donated to establish Mariposa FLC, more than 1700 volunteer hours of rehab work shored up Mariposa’s building and prepared it for service, staff was hired, and Mariposa board leaders mapped out strategies to move the organization forward. Mariposa has withstood the difficulties imposed by Covid-19 and is now fully established in the Montopolis neighborhood to support the well-being of children and their families.

Mariposa FLC has big plans for 2021: the start of parent support and educational programming, the expansion of classes and facilities, and the strengthening of community ties. Mariposa FLC Advancement Director Patsy Harris, with her skills and experiences, will help Mariposa progress to these next level goals of organizational development which are part of Mariposa’s mission: to serve low-income families with top-notch childcare and educational programming.

  • Rev. Tim Anderson, ACL Director


Mariposa FLC Opens!

A three-year-old girl bounded from a play table to the children’s kitchen. Her brown hair pulled tightly into a ponytail, she put both her hands on the play-stove as if to claim new territory. Her hands held firmly in place, she turned only her head to search for her mother who was speaking with Mariposa Lead Teacher Rosa Nelson Lopez. Mom’s eyes met with her child’s eyes, gently communicating approval with a smile.

It was 7:07 a.m. on Thursday, January 30, 2020 and Mariposa FLC was officially open for service to children and their families in SE Austin. This opening day had been close to three years in the making – thanks be to God for persistence in mission and vision!

Mariposa Director Sheila Pharis has hired a wonderful staff to care for and educate the children who come to our newly rehabbed facility. I was able to spend some time with the new staff during their training prior to Mariposa’s opening – Sheila asked me to share important points of Montopolis neighborhood history with her new teachers.

At the beginning of our session, however, I wanted to know how it was that the four new teachers arrived to Montopolis. They knew exactly what I meant – I wasn’t asking what type of car they drove or which route Google Maps provided them. I was asking about the life trajectories that led them to this point in time – working as a teacher to low-income children in a historically marginalized neighborhood of Austin, Texas. Each teacher (pictured below) answered with passion and conviction.

Angie Avila (left) is a native Austinite and Mishell Rivera (right), originally from Mexico, moved to Austin as a young girl. Mishell is currently studying at ACC.
Lead Teacher Rosa Nelson Lopez (left) is originally from Venezuela where she graduated from Universidad Rafael Belloso Chacín and Emily Garcia (right) is a UT grad originally from the Texas Valley.

I’d love to tell the details of each teacher’s answer, but these are their own stories to share. Suffice it to say, each teacher’s response to my inquiry was nothing short of inspiring. Sheila, who efficiently prepped Mariposa FLC to be licensed for its opening, deserves additional praise for putting together her team. With Sheila’s direction, this team will touch children with compassion and kindness while providing consistency and order.

These four teachers are also aware that each child – and each parent of these children – also has their own life trajectory story of how they arrived to Montopolis and Mariposa FLC. To be aware of these stories and to learn their details through the relationships currently being built at Mariposa is the start of our Two-Gen process – working alongside and caring for the whole family.

Meet Mariposa FLC Director Sheila Pharis


We’re pleased to introduce Sheila Pharis as Childcare Director at Mariposa Family Learning Center! Sheila brings close to twenty years of experience in the childcare field, and plenty of passion and creativity to the task of leading Mariposa FLC’s 2-Generation educational center in the Montopolis neighborhood of SE Austin.

Mariposa FLC is slated to open its doors for full-day care to three-year olds in January, and plans to work alongside parents with the goal of improving access to educational, vocational, and family health resources. Together, these “2-Gen” supports promise to build stronger families in SE Austin now and into the future.

Sheila is a graduate of Lamar University in Beaumont, where she grew up, and a twenty-year resident of SE Austin. She’s also a mom of a young adult son and teenaged daughter who plays high school volleyball.

If you’re going to the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar at Austin’s Palmer Events Center, you can see Sheila in the evenings at her booth, H-4. Telepathy Hats, her side business, features upcycled winter wearables from rescued sweaters and hand-knit hats in several styles.

Sheila spoke at the Austin City Lutherans gathering at Shepherd of the Hills on October 26 and will reprise her speaking at the same upcoming repeat event at Abiding Love Lutheran Church on Saturday, November 16. Come to meet her and lend your support for the good work at Mariposa FLC!

Prayer Blessing for Mariposa FLC!

What a grand “Prayer Blessing” for Mariposa Family Learning Center with some 55 folks present! The gray January 12th sky above SE Austin allowed a bit of sunlight to filter through, lending a spirit of divine blessing from above for this work and mission – over a year-and-a-half in the making.

Upon embarking on this project in the spring of 2019, Austin City Lutherans didn’t have a physical location or a building in which to carry out this mission. What the organization did have was some initial funding and a whole lot of faith. Our faith has been rewarded many times over in these past months – Mariposa FLC is now poised to serve children and their families!

I reminded the crowd that this new work continues upon the path forged by faith-based pioneers in Montopolis: since 1957, the United Methodist women who lead the Montopolis Friendship Community Center and offer a thrift store and a community center (and, previously, childcare); and, Dolores Catholic Church under the leadership of Father Fred Underwood in the 1960s and ’70s building the Montopolis Rec Center and organizing the community to bring bus service, affordable housing units, and social services for seniors and activities for youth. There would be no Mariposa FLC today without the pioneering work of these faith partners who have gone before us in the spirit of Christ-like commitment.

Neither would there be any Mariposa FLC without the buoyant spirit of service shown by numerous Austin City Lutheran volunteers since August 1st, the initial volunteer work day at MFLC. While I stood on the newly built ramp that served as our Sunday afternoon pulpit, I asked for those who volunteered – whether painting, cleaning, equipping, fixing, building, organizing, sorting, replacing, doing electrical or plumbing work – to raise their hands. More than half the crowd did so. Thank you all for your wonderful work!

Mariposa Director Sheila Pharis then addressed the gathered to let them know that she plans to open the center’s doors to children toward the end of the month. She said also that parents are filling out registration forms and that she is conducting interviews for staff hires.


Pastor Tom Grevlos, to close out the brief ceremony, gave the blessing prayer – a christening for the important work to be carried out in the significantly rehabbed building that sits on Austin Parks and Rec property, Civitan Park. Mariposa FLC will help children develop their God-given abilities, thus mitigating the “readiness gap” that typically exists for low-income family children when they start kindergarten.

Mariposa FLC’s goal is to strengthen families in SE Austin, which will make our entire Austin community stronger – whether we live west or east of Austin’s dividing line, I-35. Mariposa is a major part of Austin City Lutherans’ overall effort to create a “living bridge” that trends east. Thanks to all those who have helped make this faith-vision a reality.

Mariposa Family Learning Center

Question: Can Austin City Lutherans do “more, better, together”? Answer: Absolutely, because with God’s guidance and grace, all good things are possible. When it comes to food distribution and early childhood/family development – the two major areas of emphasis for Austin City Lutherans’ (ACL) combined ministry efforts – we’re grateful to report that our organization’s reach is expanding.

Mariposa Family Learning Center (MFLC) is ACL’s newly named and established effort in SE Austin to provide young families with high-quality child care, supplemented by parent education and support. MFLC will use a “2-Generation” approach – working simultaneously with children and their parents – with the goal of increasing each family’s access to economic, social, educational or spiritual resources. Located at the Montopolis Friendship Community Center on Vargas Road in Austin’s Montopolis neighborhood, MFLC should be operational sometime in the fall of 2019.

ACL’s leadership identifies Mariposa FLC as a transformational ministry, having the power to positively alter the trajectory of a child’s and their family’s life.

Individuals and families continue to receive fresh produce, frozen meat, eggs, bread, and canned goods every Monday evening at Bread For All (BFA) Food Pantry at Faith Presbyterian Church on E. Oltorf Street. On the second Monday morning of each month, BFA helps facilitate a similar distribution from a Central Texas Food Bank truck at Parker Lane United Methodist Church in SE Austin. Since 2013, BFA has served low-income workers, seniors on fixed incomes, disabled folks, homeless individuals, and children living in poverty.

ACL’s leadership refers to BFA as charity ministry, having the ability to provide quality food – along with water, the most basic of necessities – for an individual or family, whether in temporary or chronic need.

“Mariposa” is the Spanish word for butterfly.

ACL is committed to doing its part to counter intergenerational poverty – a byproduct of entrenched American inequality – in response to Jesus’s teaching in “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats:” Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).

We’re working with United Way-Austin, which serves as the coordinating organization for all 2-Generation efforts throughout the Austin area. Other important partners include Austin Parks and Recreation, Allison Elementary School, and the United Methodist women who have been doing community ministry from the Montopolis Friendship Community Center for more than sixty years.

Austin City Lutherans consists of the leaders and members of ELCA worshipping communities in and around Austin, Texas. Formed in 2011, the ACL moniker “More, Better, Together” was adopted early on to guide the organization’s activities.

Donations can be made to Austin City Lutherans (a 501.c.3 non-profit) for either Bread For All or for Mariposa FLC at Abiding Love Lutheran Church, 7210 Brush Country Road, Austin, Texas 78749.


SE Austin Initiative Update!

Austin City Lutherans’ goal of providing high-quality early childhood development in SE Austin gained a grand measure of momentum the first week of December 2018!

A “Memorandum of Understanding” has been signed by ACL President Brad Highum and the board president of the Montopolis Friendship Community Center (MFCC), Ms. Vernell Moncure. The memorandum is not binding, but it allows ACL to take further steps to determine if a childcare-dedicated building owned by the MFCC would best suit ACL’s early childhood development effort at the same location.

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The longer history of the MFCC foreshadows ACL’s briefer history. Consisting of women of United Methodist churches in the Austin area, MFCC was founded in 1956 with the mission objective of serving, in Christ’s name, those of “greatest need.” The next year – in that era prior to civil rights enactments – they began to work and serve in Montopolis, primarily alongside minority populations. Recently annexed by the City of Austin, Montopolis at that point in time was isolated and neglected. The MFCC has been there ever since – at 403 Vargas Road – offering childcare, a thrift store, and community center activities.

Allison Elementary School, established in 1955 as one of the city’s first effort to provide services in Montopolis, has always been a good neighbor to the MFCC. Austin City Lutherans plans to maintain a side-by-side working relationship with this longtime Austin Independent School District neighbor.

The long-range goal is to open a childcare facility for infants to three year olds at MFCC, run by ACL, in August 2019. There is much work to do to reach this goal in the stated timeframe: meetings with Austin city entities and other partners, consultations with ACL Core Team members, and decisions by the ACL governing board. Additionally, a binding document will need to be agreed upon by ACL and MFCC leaders.

Your prayers are coveted. Perhaps the following prayer from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 304, fits ACL’s current context best:

“O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” 

Thanks be to God who guides, leads, directs, and redirects. Let’s keep at it!

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Southeast Austin Initiative

At its February 25, 2018 meeting at Abiding Love Lutheran Church, ACL members approved moving forward with a bold initiative: to plan and implement an Early Childhood Development Center in Southeast Austin. Pastor Tim Anderson was approved to be the development director of the initiative. Significant funding for the initiative and the director position has been promised by two leading ACL congregations: Abiding Love and Shepherd of the Hills. Pastor Anderson will make himself available to preach and teach at all ACL congregations, sharing the vision of the initiative and encouraging support for its development in a part of the city that significantly lacks options for families in need of child care.


The Birth of ACL’s Early Childhood Development Initiative

Representatives from ACL congregations gathered at Abiding Love Lutheran Church on the afternoon of April 30, 2017. The meeting was billed as a “summit” to ascertain the direction of ACL’s future ministry. At that point in time, the Bread For All (BFA) Food Pantry had been serving neighbors in SE Austin for three and half years and BFA’s host – Prince of Peace Lutheran – was in the process of figuring out its own future.

Close to fifty people from eight ACL congregations put their heads and hearts together for two hours that Sunday afternoon. ACL President and Abiding Love pastor Brad Highum welcomed us, blessed the meeting with prayer, and gave a brief history of ACL’s development. Pastor Highum reminded the group that initial conversations among ACL pastors focused on establishing a community ministry center, and perhaps, he said, that day was now approaching. Pastor Nate Lizarazo, transition pastor at Prince of Peace, then gave an update of his congregation’s status. Two main options, he said, would be ministry redevelopment onsite or sale of the property. Triumphant Love Lutheran member Dick Moeller (pictured below) then led a brainstorming process. Representatives broke into small groups at ten tables and shared their ideas what an expanded ACL ministry – based on the Bread For All mission – could and would look like.

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Ideas were shared verbally, discussed at the tables, and agreed upon by each small group. The ideas were then written down upon flip chart paper and taped onto boards at the front of the room for the whole group to see and consider. Trusting for the Spirit’s guidance, everyone was then given seven dot stickers by which they voted for what they thought to be the best ideas.



Notes from summit – 4/30/2017

The sticker votes were tabulated and two emphases stood out: nutrition and early childhood education. After the summit meeting, a leadership group of ACL board members, Prince of Peace members, and others met through the summer and fall to figure out how to best carry out the vision shared in the meeting. The first emphasis, serving as validation for Bread For All, was easy enough to follow through on. The ministry continues successfully to this day.

The second emphasis was a bit trickier in terms of envisioning implementation. In time, it became the basis for the current ACL proposal referred to on this website as the SE Austin Early Childhood Development Initiative. Pastor Highum, who continues as ACL’s president, sums up the guidance of the summit with these words today: “This is the direction the working group took from the ACL community gathered in April of 2017: nutrition and education programming and support for young children coupled with developing ministry with parents/caregivers.” We’re still in the discovery and research phase of this process, which now includes interacting with and interviewing parents of young children living in SE Austin.

May God continue to guide our conversations, learnings, and thinking as we move toward faithful implementation of these ministry goals.