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Mar 02, 2011 | Luke Blount

Hurricane Ike Relief Efforts Conclude

In July of 2009, I led a volunteer group to one of Texas Episcopal Disaster Relief and Development’s home repairs. When we arrived, Mr. Stephenson lumbered into a room full of high school students from Hewitt, Texas. They were there to paint his house in one of the final steps of the repair process after Hurricane Ike.


Stephenson is a large, bearded man. His arms are adorned with tattoos, and his long graying hair is often pulled back into a pony tail. He looks like a Hell’s Angel, an intimidating presence to say the least.


But on this day, Stephenson told us his story. He lost almost everything as Hurricane Ike left only the shambles of what was his home. He looked around the room at these young strangers waiting to paint the walls, his eye filled with tears and he choked up for a moment. The only words he could get out were, “You are God-sends.” He repeated the phrase and walked out of the room. It was this moment when I fully realized the impact of our work in Galveston.


The Episcopal Diocese of Texas’ hurricane relief efforts began immediately after the storm, which struck September 13, 2008. By November, Relief Coordinator Maggie Immler was in place to coordinate a repair and rebuild program in Galveston. Since that time, the relief effort has worked on 174 homes in Galveston and La Porte, Texas.


In February, 2011, after investing more than $1 million into the community - in addition to more than $1 million in volunteer labor - TEDRD concluded their repair work. The project has now shifted focus to preparedness strategies for future disasters.


When I arrived in Galveston on February 3, 2009, I was prepared for the worst. I was entering a disaster zone of epic proportions. Hurricane Ike caused more than $25 billion worth of damage and thousands of Galvestonians were homeless.  I signed up as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, a program dedicated to helping the poor while experiencing poverty first-hand.


I was ready for a struggle, but I encountered a blessing. For all the times we saw the heartache of destruction, we also saw the joy of rebirth. And as time went by, I encountered the wonderful people of Galveston who would become like family to me.


We received tremendous financial support, on a regional level from the diocese, as well as on the national level from Episcopal Relief and Development. Local churches and parish leaders from the affected area were incredible in their ability to help their own congregations while reaching out to the greater community. The resiliency of these people was a marvelous sight to see.


Perhaps, what I will miss most is the hearts and spirits of our volunteers, interns and staff who worked for a salary of soul instead of money. There are too many great individuals to name here, but they know who they are. Whether they traveled across the country or across town to lend a hand, their service was most inspiring.


Our interns took time out of their lives to give back to the less fortunate. Some of them were burdened with mountains of college debt, and many were still in school, but they were led to Galveston to offer assistance. One intern stayed for an entire year. Jim Serwan, a parishioner of Trinity, Baytown, drove his travel trailer to Galveston in February of 2010 and never left. After a career in pharmaceutical sales, Jim decided he would help repair homes with us.


The staff, led by Immler and Construction Coordinator Gary Davis, are all seeking new adventures. Immler finally took a break from her infamous six-day work weeks and returned to northern Wisconsin for some R&R. Gary is looking for more opportunities to continue this type of work, and the rest of the staff members are doing everything from finishing school to selling sausage.


Galveston will always hold a place in all of our hearts not only for the transformation we saw in an island community, but also within ourselves. 


Blount is the new staff writer for the Diocese of Texas and will be responsible for enews publications and will write for the new Texas Episcopalian Magazine: Diolog