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Jan 09, 2019 | EDOT Staff

Recovery Takes a Village and a Long Time

When Hurricane Harvey stormed into Texas in August 2017, it indiscriminately destroyed property and disrupted family and work life in all manner of neighborhoods. A record-breaking disaster is no respecter of persons, but its aftermath is. “I have two master's degrees and I could barely figure it out,” confessed the Rev. Ed Gomez, vicar of San Pablo, Houston, regarding the maze of systems a storm survivor must wade through attempting to restore property and life. For the most vulnerable, recovering from Harvey is exponentially more difficult and delayed, if recovery begins at all.

At the end of 2018, thousands continue to live in mold-filled, unsafe homes, many with no basic utilities. “There are families still living in flooded homes that have not been mucked out,” said Debbie Allensworth, associate at St. Andrew’s, Pearland. Without the Church’s bold leadership and service, most will never get the chance for restoration.

The mission of the Diocese of Texas’ Hurricane Harvey Recovery Program is to encourage and equip churches and missional communities to engage in long-term Harvey recovery with their most under-resourced neighbors for whom conventional disaster recovery mechanisms are not effective.

Bishop Andy Doyle envisioned “new and deepening relationships between church members and Harvey survivors that will be a means of transformation for individuals and communities, both for the givers and receivers of assistance through the program.” Powered by generous grants from Episcopal Relief & Development and the Diocese of Texas Quin Foundation, this transformation has come to life and continues to spread across the Diocese. Following are just a few glimpses from recovery in the Harvey Mission Field.

The Abundant Harvest, a food truck ministry of St. Isidore, north of Houston, built relationships in several vulnerable communities prior to Harvey, according to Molly Carr, missioner. Partnerships were already in place with restaurants and residents to improve access to healthy food in a severely underserved neighborhood in Montgomery County. When Harvey overwhelmed residents with as much as 18 feet of water, Carr expanded food operations to be present to residents at least once a week for more than a year. This consistency has led to even deeper relationships. Carr is able to provide residents with rebuilding supplies through a grant from the Diocese, and they are using one another’s skills to lay flooring, hang kitchen cabinets, and build wheelchair ramps in their own and neighbors’ homes. There is still much to be done but Carr said: “I just try to stay focused on this little piece that I can do something about." 

San Pablo in Houston likewise discovered their “little piece” on which to focus Harvey recovery. Low-income families near the church not only lost homes and possessions in the storm, they also lost employment when businesses flooded. As a result, the community bears a lot of stress, with parents trying to provide for their families while also seeking resources to rebuild their lives. It is not surprising that, with very few accessible support systems, Vicar Ed Gomez saw an increase in storm-related trauma.

With a grant from the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Program, San Pablo hired a experienced licensed counselor to offer support groups for women, individuals and families. Classes range in topic from self-esteem for teens to suicide prevention. Despite neighborhood demographics, all disaster-affected families and communities suffer the effects of trauma. While many do not seek personal help with trauma because of the stigma attached to behavioral health care, San Pablo’s programs are well attended. Participants “know that they're going to see someone who understands their culture and speaks their language,” Gomez said. He attributes the program’s success to the church’s reputation in the community. “San Pablo is seen as a safe place where confidentiality is honored and leaders are trusted,” he said.

St. Andrew’s, Pearland is another church that arrived at the Harvey mission field with a well-earned reputation for service and trustworthiness. For more than 20 years, the Rev. Jim Liberatore and his associate Debbie Allensworth have cultivated community relationships beyond the church walls. Through collaborations with local school districts, county agencies, Builders Without Borders of Texas, and Sewa International, St. Andrew’s became a center of recovery activity.

Liberatore and Allensworth are “pastors to the community,” even to those with other church affiliations or no religious affiliation. When Harvey hit, St. Andrew’s stepped up for families who fell through the cracks of conventional disaster recovery systems. By listening, consistently showing up, and developing a recovery plan, this church builds real relationships with flood survivors. “We’re here for the long term,” Liberatore said.

One of St. Andrew’s unique storm recovery projects is in a rural farming community in southern Brazoria County where St. Andrew’s is helping to build and furnish  small elevated homes so that the local farmers—many of whom are Cambodian—can return to a healthy environment. St. Andrew’s is also helping to rebuild many of the community’s greenhouses destroyed by Harvey. It is hoped that these farmers will be back to a normal growing season by spring of 2019.

Returning families to home and full employment is vital for the community, but the heart of St. Andrew’s ministry is a wealth of deepening connections with neighbors and living out their respect for “the dignity of every human being.”

Each church community in the Diocese of Texas possesses unique gifts that are invaluable resources for disaster response. To all who have ears to hear, the Rev. Jim Liberatore proclaims “Harvey recovery is not over!” If you hear a call to partner your God-given talents with the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Program, please contact . It is only through its many members that the Body of Christ in the Diocese of Texas can continue to walk the long road to recovery alongside its neighbors in need.

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