Hometown Hero Ernest Hernandez

Written by Credit Union of Texas
Published April 24, 2019
image of volunteers serving food to those in need volunteers serving food to those in need

We live in a world where many people don’t feel like they have value. Because of the experiences they’ve had and the beliefs they hold about themselves, they’re filled with despair, often turning to drugs and alcohol for solace and winding up losing years of their lives in prison or in homelessness. Ernest Hernandez was one of these people. Now he’s the guy who helps those people find their way back to life.

When Ernest was released from prison eight years ago, he committed to living the rest of his life to the fullest and to helping the people around him who suffered in the same ways that he had. Two or three times a month, Ernest, now a practicing Christian, visits prisoners with the goal of making them feel heard and understood. He encourages them that their lives aren’t over; that they can build a bright future, even from a really difficult past and present. Ernest knows there are lots of groups who visit prisons. But his experiences give him a unique ability to connect and empathize with the prisoners he sees. They know he’s walked through some of what they’ve walked through…and he made it to the other side.

Ernest doesn’t just visit the prisoners, he builds relationships with them and serves as a resource when they’re released. Many have lost contact with their families, so Ernest offers to pick them up when they get out—so a friendly face is there to share their first moments of freedom—and takes them to a safe house or church to begin their second chance. He encourages them to do what he has done and find meaning in connecting with volunteer organizations and helping others.

Ernest assumed his main contributions would be toward adult prisoners. But shortly after his release, he was invited to speak to a group about the effects of alcoholism. He was shocked to see that his audience, instead of being adults, were girls aged 12 to 17. Many, he later learned, had parents or family members in the prison system. It dawned on him then, as it hadn’t before, that the experience of the prison system didn’t only impact the people inside the walls—it impacts the whole community.

Ernest became more involved with this group of students and also became a Youth Pastor at his church. He encourages students to stay in school, to increase their chances of writing themselves a more promising narrative than the ones their parents and other incarcerated family members had lived. He calls them “today’s warriors.” Under his guidance and supportive mentorship, many have broken free from addiction and now commit themselves to community service right along with Ernest.

And when he’s not befriending and inspiring prisoners and kids at risk, Ernest reaches out to the homeless, donating supplies and opening his home to homeless people every other Thanksgiving, so that he and his family share their abundance.

In short, Ernest Hernandez has been faithful to his mission to living life to the fullest. He’s helped make it possible for people who got a rougher start, who have walked a hard journey and who have made mistakes that sent them down a dark path to find their way back. He’s taught them that their story isn’t written. It’s not over. There’s always tomorrow. And even though getting to a beautiful tomorrow might take some work, Ernest is proof that it’s work worth doing.