On any given morning, one finds Consuelo Gutierrez cleaning a bedroom, preparing a meal or playing with a child in the backyard — all things one would expect to see from a devoted mother.

But what you might not notice right away is that Gutierrez is doing all of this for children who aren’t biologically hers. Instead, they are a group of children with mental and physical disabilities who are being provided forever care by Hope House of Austin, a nonprofit organization that has been a staple in Liberty Hill since the 1970s. Gutierrez, who has been a staff member at Hope House for 30 years, is affectionately called "mommy" by many of the residents and considers each of them to be one of her "babies."

Currently, there are 13 children who live at Hope House, ranging in age from 6 to 17. When Gutierrez first started working there 30 years ago, the facility was home to 43 kids. The numbers have varied over the years, sometimes with dozens of kids like years ago, and sometimes with fewer children, like now. Gutierrez said that number all depends on the number of staff available to care for the kids, as well as those who move out of the program to go elsewhere or age out of the program when they turn 18.  

For more than 50 years, Hope House has provided forever care to children and adults with the most severe mental and physical disabilities.

Hope House was founded in 1967 by German immigrant Rose McGarrigle, who relocated to Austin and realized the great need locally for care for those with disabilities.

“Hope House started in Austin in Rose’s garage apartment,” Erland Schulze, development director for Hope House, told The Independent. “She would drive all over Austin in her red Volkswagen bus and find disabled children to care for. She did this with no state or federal support. Long story short, people started taking an interest in what she was doing. In 1977, 11 acres of land was donated just outside Liberty Hill and that’s how we ended up here.”

Since then, Hope House has maintained a home on that original 11 acres, located about six miles down County Road 285, where children ranging from ages 5 to 17 are given around-the-clock care from people like Gutierrez. Duplex-style homes in downtown Liberty Hill serve the adults who are cared for by Hope House.

Gutierrez moved to Bertram from Zacatecas, Mexico, when she was 23 and a newlywed. Getting hired at Hope House was the first job she got after immigrating to America, where she started in the laundry room. It's been 30 years and she has come a long way from just doing the laundry. While her job is similar in hours to most people who work a Monday to Friday shift, her role at Hope House goes much deeper.

“I love working with the kids,” she said. “That’s why I have 30 years here, because I love my job. I started out doing all the laundry, and then on the weekends I worked with the kids, but after about three years, I started working directly with the kids all the time.”

Gutierrez admits that when she first started working for Hope House, she was a little nervous.

“I was scared of the kids, because I was young and I thought, ‘What if they hit me or kick me?’ But after working here a while I learned all about them,” she said. “Now I know all the kids and how each of the kids is. It’s not scary anymore.”

For Gutierrez, working at Hope House isn’t really work. On any given day she helps each of the children shower, get dressed, eat meals, take their medicine, do their homework and play. When it’s nice outside, she plays with them on the playground and helps them swing, and when it gets hot enough in the summer, she swims with them in the facility's on-site pool.

“I do everything with the kids,” she said. “I don’t look at this like my job. I look at this like my own home.”

Though today Gutierrez’ own four children are grown, she remembers years ago when they needed care just like the children at Hope House.

“It was always okay for me,” she said. “I like to care for kids, so I’d work here with these kids, and then I’d go home and do the same, feeding my own kids and helping them do their homework. This is my life -- working with kids.”

Two of her children have even followed in their mother’s footsteps, with one daughter recently leaving Hope House after working there as a caretaker for six years, while another daughter just celebrated two years on staff as a caretaker.

Over the last 30 years, Gutierrez has had the opportunity to watch dozens of children grow into adults, and while she can’t put a number on how many children she has helped raise, she knows it’s a lot.

“It makes me happy to see the kids grow up here,” she said. “Sometimes it gets hard because the teenagers don’t like to listen; they are different from the babies. But I love to watch them grow up here with us.”

Gutierrez said the best part of her day is when she arrives at work around 6 a.m., ready to start a new day.

“I’m fresh and I have all my energy and I’m ready to work with the kids,” she said. “I call them my babies, and they call me ‘mommy.’ Everything I do with them is the best part. They have a respect for me that I also have for them.”

While helping them with basic needs, like eating, showering and dressing are the main components of her job, Gutierrez loves the time she gets to spend with the kids teaching them fun life skills, like how to ride a bike or swim. She also helps them with their homework, works with them on reading and math skills, and assists physical therapists and other specialists who come into Hope House to assist the children.

She’s also known around Hope House for keeping tabs on every single child’s clothing and shoe sizes.

“If the kids need new clothes or shoes, I’ll find it for them,” she said. “I know their sizes, what they like and what they don’t like. Everybody always asks me what sizes the kids are in because they know I will be able to tell them.”

Gutierrez also gets to join the children on fun outings, like field trips, which are always an adventure, she said.

“One time we were taking the kids to an outlet mall, and one of the kids went to the elevator and took it all the way down and left us at the top,” she recalled. “I was scared because he took it down by himself. I left the other kids with the rest of the staff and went running to find him. When I got down to him, he was just laughing. I was so scared, but he was laughing. I have a lot of stories like that here — so many memories.”

Schulz said Gutierrez is one of several Hope House employees who has served the organization for years.

“It's the residents here who benefit, and we are so blessed to have [these long-term employees],” he said.

Dave Gould, Hope House executive director, agreed and said he has had the pleasure to work alongside Gutierrez for the 15 years that he has been employed by Hope House.

“She was a veteran staff [member] at that point,” he said. “She provides such stability and compassion for our kids and her staff that work with her.  She is one of the best natural childcare workers I’ve ever seen.”

Gutierrez said working at Hope House for the last three decades has been the joy of her life, and she hopes that other people might be inspired to commit so many years to the organization, because of how wonderful the kids have been, she added.

While she doesn’t know what the future will bring, Gutierrez is certain of one thing -- she plans on being at Hope House as long as possible.

“I was just talking about that with my daughter,” she said. “She asked me how long I was going to work here. I told her until Hope House goes away, I’ll be here. I will be walking in here with my cane to hold me up.”

For more information on Hope House, visit hopehouseaustin.org.