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In the Spotlight: Leigh Faissal

Conroe parole officer’s appearance, spirit of giving ring familiar

Come the holidays, people have good cause to recognize Conroe parole officer Leigh Faissal as “Mrs. Claus.” It might be her ever-present red sweater encrusted with snowflakes, snowmen and Christmas trees that brings Santa’s spouse to mind. Or maybe it’s the rimless eyeglasses that sit perched on a friendly face that practically glows when she talks about the spreading of good cheer. Then again, it could be the trove of “elves” that work with her. But more than anything else, it’s Faissal’s genuine concern for the less fortunate and her spirit of giving that ring so familiar.
Leigh Fassial sitting in roomful of presents
Conroe parole officer Leigh Fassial sits in a roomful of presents for disadvantaged kids prior to this year’s Christmas in the Park event at the Hopewell Community Church.

Photo by David Nunnelee

“I’ve been told that,” Faissal said about her resemblance to Santa’s partner, or at least the way she’s been publicly depicted. “I guess I sort of do.”

In the spirit of Mrs. Claus, Faissal works each year to bring a little joy to children and other people in need within the three counties – Montgomery, San Jacinto, and Waller - covered by the district parole office in Conroe. In the low-income Conroe neighborhood of Dugan in December, she seemed like the genuine article as she handed out gifts and stuffed stockings to children who otherwise might have gone without at Christmas. More than 200 attended what has become the annual Christmas in the Park event.

At Thanksgiving, she organized the collection of enough foodstuffs and other everyday items to fill 45 boxes and then helped deliver them to the homes of the less fortunate in the community. In the spring, there was an Easter egg hunt for the neighborhood kids, and then came the summer arts and crafts fair she and her friends sponsored at the community church with the help of Pastor Melton Taylor.

“It’s always been that way,” the St. Edwards University graduate said about her charitable ways. “My mom was like that and I’ve just continued it, I guess. It’s just the way I think people should be. You need to give back to people who are less fortunate. If you extend a hand, sometimes it makes a difference.”

Faissal, an 18-year TDCJ veteran who supervises more than 90 parolees with substance abuse issues, started handing out Thanksgiving food baskets in the Dugan neighborhood not long after she moved to the Conroe office from the Houston IV office about 10 years ago. Some of her clients come from the impoverished neighborhood so she was able to see its struggles first hand while making home visits.

“I didn’t know that it was as bad as it is until then,” she said. “There are a lot of people who don’t have a lot of anything.”

That first year she delivered fewer than 10 Thanksgiving baskets. She had planned on delivering just 25 baskets this year, but a surge in donations, including a turkey for each basket, allowed for 45.

“I don’t do it by myself,” Faissal said about her “little elves.” “It’s my friends and the people here at the office. The support I’ve gotten from the people here has grown tremendously.”
Faissal admits that all of her efforts to aid the needy during the holidays can be “a little overwhelming.” Besides the time her job demands, the single parent cares for her ailing mother and attends to the needs of a 15-year-old son at home and a 24-year-old son in law school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Still, she says she would never consider stopping or even scaling back her efforts.

“Never,” she said. “I would never stop. It’s a part of me. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t do this every year. I look forward to it all year long.”

While Faissal is willing to help anyone in the Dugan community, her focus is on its children. Giving the children of offenders the opportunity to experience simple pleasures might be enough to keep them from turning to crime, she says.

“There’s a lot of kids over there being taken care of by their grandparents because their parents are in prison,” she said. “That’s a population that nobody sees. They’re overlooked.”

During this year’s Christmas in the Park event, Faissal took delight in seeing the glee in the eyes of the kids as they received their presents and otherwise enjoyed the day. That, she said, is her reward.

“I don’t do it for recognition,” she said. “It’s about the kids. Just to see those faces light up. That’s plenty.”

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