Driven by a personal motto that is framed on her desk, “The key to Heaven is love for the poor,” and a passion for figuring out how to fulfill need wherever she saw it, Peg has had a distinguished career in social work in Houston, Texas, since 1970 when she returned to work after her four daughters were school-aged.
In 1979, to eliminate duplication of effort and better serve the needy, she organized the Westheimer Social Ministry (WESM), a coalition of ten churches of different denominations. The coalition’s mission was to deliver social services in Southwestern Houston by pooling financial resources and volunteers. Member churches would refer all requests for assistance to Peg and her many trained volunteers interviewed each client to determine need and how best to help. She trained and supervised more than 30 volunteers including social work students, court-ordered community service workers and church volunteers. WESM also operated a resale shop called “Second Blessings.” Donated household goods, furniture and clothing were either given directly to the poor or sold for funds to aid the ministry with rent, utilities or medical needs. WESM is now known as WHAM-West Houston Area Ministry.
Peg didn’t stop there. She was the main resource person for helping other areas of Houston to develop similar programs. WESM was the first of the 21-member Texas Association of Social Ministry Coalition to establish a total case management crisis intervention program. WESM, which she so carefully developed, continues to flourish13 years after her retirement from day-to-day operations and will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2007.
Asked by then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire to work on homeless issues, Peg was one of the founding members of the Homeless Coalition of Houston and served as its board president from l983 to 2001 when she was honored with a Harris County proclamation, Margaret K. “Peg” Dudar Day, May 2, 2001. During this period, the coalition raised more than $90 million in HUD grants for the homeless of Houston and Harris County and was a major player in all of the organized charitable activities dealing with homeless agencies. Other agencies in which Peg played a major founding role include: Voluntary Action Center, a clearing house for area-wide volunteer placement, and Community Service Option, placement of non-violent offenders into community service in lieu of incarceration, a service now handled by the Probation Department. She also served two terms (limited) on the Catholic Charities Board and continues on the program evaluation committee.
Peg’s preparation for her life of community service included her Marygrove Bachelor’s degree in Social Work followed by a Master’s degree combining Education, Social Work, Guidance and Counseling from the University of Michigan. She also studied at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and is a licensed Master of Social Work in Texas.
According to her sister Anne Brown Courtois ‘53, Peg has a great sense of humor as well as a set of her own truisms the family calls “Pegisms.” Among them, “Call the shots the way you see them and don’t look back.” She infused her work with the poor with some of the same wisdom. In respecting the clients’ dignity, she would ask what they could do in return for the help they received.
Of her stacks of community service awards and testimonials, she is particularly proud to have received Papal medals in 1985 and 1997, and the Jefferson Award in 1983. But, most of all, she is immensely proud of her four daughters and her husbandJohn.
Dr. Daniel E. Jennings, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Houston, summed up Peg’s career “She is the one social worker in this city of two million people to whom other professionals look for guidance and inspiration.”
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