By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Similarly mystifying for Hendrixson was Bajito Onda's ejection from Hutchins State Jail. She had carefully built up a rapport with a group of 15 hard-core gang members in prison, visiting as often as three times a week. Hendrixson believes that her approach wasn't religious enough to suit the prison chaplain, Greg McAlister. "I have nothing against her personally," McAlister insists. "It was a decision that we felt the program was better for the outside than in. We felt the nature of the program was a preventative program." Coming on the heels of losing the community service workers, the blow was hard to take. "The day they kicked me out of Hutchins, I just stood there and cried," Hendrixson says. "I mean, how bad is that that they don't even want you in prison?"
Vicki Hallman of the TDCJ Parole Division first met Hendrixson at a 2003 meeting of the Community Partnership Council, a network of social service organizations. "The first time I met her I was scared to death of her," says Hallman, a stylish African-American with a habitual air of cheerful confidence. "Anybody who can out-talk me, that's a problem." She recalls her first visit to Bajito Onda: "I went on a day that it was raining," Hallman says. The rain poured through countless leaks in the roof. "She considered me a VIP, and she had one little room where she could put me where I wouldn't get wet, so it was me in there and a dog and her puppies." Nevertheless, Hallman was impressed and began using Bajito Onda as her last resort. "I send her my toughest cases," Hallman says. In one instance, a parolee became a target when he tried to leave his gang. "He had been beaten to a pulp," Hallman says. "He was just concerned about moving from pillar to post so they wouldn't find him. [Del] nursed him back to health."
Even as Bajito Onda struggled in Dallas, Hendrixson found a way to expand abroad. In 2001, Mexican activist Antonio Melin contacted Hendrixson, impressed with the Bajito Onda Web site (www.bajitoonda.org). He soon founded a chapter in Mexico, a connection that led to an invitation for Hendrixson to address a U.N. conference on youth violence in Monterrey last year. Another Web convert, Amidu Mansaray, founded a chapter in the tiny West African nation of The Gambia in 2003. Mansaray has since traveled to human rights conferences across Africa, gaining recognition for Bajito Onda from the African Union. When he came to Dallas for three weeks in 2003 to meet Hendrixson in person at last, he was astonished. "You live worse here than we do in Africa," he told her.
It was Gilbert who found a way to change all that. She scouted out the warehouse facility on Grand Avenue, and a local businessman agreed to loan Bajito Onda enough to move in, a loan to be paid off in future free printing. The wooden hut was replaced by rooms at the Quality Inn, another in-kind trade. But Gilbert is far from satisfied. "When I came here in 2001, Del said we'd have a house in a year. It's been four years, and I'm living in a hotel."
Hendrixson, however, is ecstatic. Her 1,000 pieces are finally coming together. "Everybody thinks I'm getting nowhere, but I'm really getting everywhere," she says.
The other full-time staffer is Rob Avalos, 23, a wiry Latino with a wispy goatee who studied computer graphics at a local technical college. Last year, he was working construction at D/FW airport, unable to find a job in his preferred field. "I would get the interviews but I would never get the job," he says. When he dropped off his résumé at Bajito Onda's former location, just down the street from his grandparents' house, he expected more of the same. Instead, Hendrixson called and hired him sight unseen. Avalos maintains Bajito Onda's Web site and does much of the design, though he is less comfortable with training others. "Sometimes you really have to explain things word by word," he says. "I try to just keep working."
Vital as their support is, much of the load still falls on Hendrixson's shoulders. What she hopes for most is to find someone to succeed her as a manager so she can concentrate on outreach programs and Bajito Onda's presence abroad. Yet there is a real question whether she could bring herself to relinquish the reins.