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Oct 26, 2018 | Melodie Woerman

Youth help Houston residents hit hard by Hurricane Harvey

For years the youth of St. Thomas’, Overland Park, have spent part of their summer engaged in outreach work, and in the process they explored issues of urban poverty, and mental health and addiction.

This summer they took a step farther by traveling to Houston to help people still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in August of 2017 and damaged more than 48,000 homes in the state of Texas.

Twenty youth in junior and senior high, along with seven adults, spent a week in Houston in July “to see what environmental disasters can do to people who are just barely getting by to begin with,” according to the Rev. Kelly Demo, the parish’s associate rector who helped organize the trip.

Before they left they heard from a fellow parishioner who works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees disaster recovery, to better understand the context of their trip.

Helping repair a damaged home

Once in Houston, the group divided between junior and senior high students. The older teens did rehabilitation of housing through West Side Recovery, a non-profit started by young adults after Harvey.

Demo said, “I think for our youth to see people who are not that much older than themselves just dive in to help their neighbors was very impactful for them.”

The youth started by working in the house of couple who had lost everything in the flooding that followed Harvey’s massive rainfall. They tore out damaged sheetrock in three bedrooms, and to repair the damage, they learned how to measure, cut and hang new drywall as well as install insulation.

Emma Gordon said she was proud to help the homeowner but she learned that putting in a new ceiling was hard work. “Carter and I had to hold up every piece of drywall while Matt drilled the screws. By the end of the day our arms were like noodles!”

At another home they dug a backyard trench so a new gas line could be installed, which would provide the homeowner with hot water for the first time in nearly a year.

Delivering preparedness meals

Junior high students worked with Meals on Wheels to help deliver emergency food and water kits to people. Demo said, “Apparently flooding occurs so frequently that often Meals on Wheels cannot get to its clients for days on end, so they raised money to create these special kits.”

The youth bagged up food and water and then helped to deliver the kits — after calling each recipient to make sure they would be home.

Demo said the kids had “a blast” talking to the elderly clients, while the recipients were very grateful to have the young people’s company.

Asher Demo said that the Meals on Wheels recipients “always gave us a really big smile, and I would feel God’s presence.”

They also worked with Lord of the Streets, a ministry to the homeless started by a local Episcopal church, to put together lunch packs for their clients.

Canvassing the community

The two groups also spent time canvassing the community to see what needs remain in the Northside neighborhood, a lower-income community hit hard by the hurricane. Demo said, “This really pushed the kids outside their comfort zone, because they had to go door-to-door doing interviews and recording answers.”

The youth did have fun while away, too. They spent one afternoon at Galveston beach. They also went to a break dancing contest at a local church where they met members of the high school state championship soccer team, which is made up of immigrants and refugees. 

They learned that seven of the players will be attending State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo., a two-hour drive from Overland Park, and hope to stay in touch with them during the school year.

Students who were part of the trip said their time in Houston had a real impact on them. 

Micah Geary said it helped him see “how much harder life could be for me and makes me grateful for my life and the church I go to.”

Zoe Green added, “I learned that we have so much more in common than you would think.”

--Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of The Harvest, Kansas’ quarterly news magazine.