Voices of Houston: Discovery Green honors unsung Houston heroes in its winter art installation

HOUSTON – A group of unsung heroes is getting well-deserved recognition as the faces of Discovery Green’s latest art installation and exhibit.

Five individuals chosen for their community impact and exemplary service to others will be featured in “Monuments” by artist Craig Walsh. The art installation consists of video projections onto trees, showcasing the subjects close-up and in slow-motion, giving the impression of living monuments to honor the individuals being recognized. The community heroes selected for this project include:

  • Tommy Garcia-Prats, one of the founders and the General Manager of Small Places LLC, a company working to address systemic issues in health through the development and practice of Community Impact Agriculture. With his brothers, Tommy runs Finca Tres Robles farm which is used as an education space and more recently to feed countless food-insecure families during the pandemic.
  • Shirin Herman, a pioneer of programs for public schools to help refugees access an education. Herman has been an educator for more than 35 years helping non-English speaking children excel in school.
  • Virginia Mendoza, a pediatric hospice care nurse for Memorial Hermann. She provides support to families so they can focus on their child’s last moments. She hopes her inclusion in Monuments by Craig Walsh at Discovery Green brings awareness to the support systems available to families of sick or dying children.
  • Joy Sewing, an award-winning lifestyle and culture columnist for the Houston Chronicle and children’s book author. A lifelong Houstonian and a former competitive ice skater, Sewing began the Year of Joy nonprofit to give children from underserved neighborhoods opportunities to find joy. For the past five years the organization has hosted hundreds of children at yearly ice-skating parties as well as other great events such as bowling or movie nights.
  • Preston Witt, the Chief Services Officer for Harmony House, a nonprofit dedicated to serving the homeless in Houston. Advocating for vulnerable people and ensuring their access to necessary, life-sustaining services is work he has done throughout his career. His commitment to his service advocacy is so great that he resiliently continues even after being attacked on the job in 2018. The Houston community is made better by his unwavering spirit and commitment.

Five additional model Houstonians are being featured as Unsung Heroes and will have their stories told on displays in the park along with exposure on Discovery Green’s social media channels. They are:

  • Jennefer Canales-Pelaez, who works as an Immigration Staff Attorney at Tahirih Justice Center, a Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative representing immigrant women and girls who have been sexually assaulted. Her advocacy for immigrant rights began at age of 11 with her own father’s deportation. The experience taught her to fight for legal authority and she has dedicated her life working to legally alleviate people’s suffering.
  • Dr. Peter J. Hotez, M.D., Ph.D, the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine. Affectionately known as the Houstonian version of Dr. Fauci, he is an ardent advocator for domestic and international vaccine access, research, and use. Wearing many proverbial academic and professional hats, Dr. Hotez commits himself to keeping us all safe and healthy.
  • Paul Middendorf, the founder and director of the nonprofit Space HL in Houston’s East End which is a performance and events space that recently closed due to Covid-19. He has spent the pandemic organizing relief and assisting hurricane victims in collaboration with CrowdSource Rescue.
  • Colleen Russo, or “Coach” as she is known by those she works with, is the co-founder of The HUB Houston, a non-residential educational organization started in 2015 that offers high school and post-graduate programs specifically designed to serve neurodiverse teenagers and young adults. Driven to increase awareness and acceptance of the neurodiverse population at every societal level, Russo is deeply involved in the Houston community from the workplace to broader social activities.
  • Nasruddin Rupani, the founder of Rupani Foundation that provides early childhood development services to underserved families in the United States and Central and South Asia. He currently serves on the board of BakerRipley, Collaborative for Children and Unicef Southwest. Additionally, he serves as Chairman of the Board for Ibn Sina Foundation which provides medical care at affordable prices in underserved communities throughout Houston.

The art installation and exhibit at Discovery Green is open to the public from December 12 through January 18. “Monuments” can be viewed at the park nightly, 6-10 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.discoverygreen.com/monuments.

KPRC 2′s Voices of Houston and Houston Life are proud partners on this project honoring our community’s unsung heroes. Honorees were nominated by the public and chosen by a diverse panel of community leaders.

About the Author:

Carlos Hernandez is the Digital Content Specialist for KPRC 2. He is a content guru for all things to do in and around Houston, historical pieces, foodie finds and local guides. Carlos was previously a lifestyle producer for KPRC 2's talk show "Houston Life."