During our first week in Houston, TX we received local orientation which involved hearing lectures from nonprofit managers and community activists. One such lecture was about the work that Black Lives Matter Houston is doing and how we can get involved in it. Because Hurricane Harvey had devastated the city just two weeks prior to our arrival, there was an immediate need to provide disaster relief to victims who experienced flooding in their homes. Black Lives Matter Houston has been working diligently to provide victims with essential items, such as baby products, food, and clothing, and helping them to secure funding and safe housing. They’re concern was that families of low-income and minority neighborhoods would not get needed help from FEMA. So on Saturday, September 16th (just seven days after our arrival), we met at St. John’s church ready to help. Some stayed at the church distributing supplies, some canvassed neighborhoods surveying need, some cleaned up homes. I was part of a group that cleaned up a house of one family -married couple, infant son, three young daughters, elderly woman. I saw a bayou near the house and couldn’t grasp the amount of rain it took to overflow it and flood the whole street. I saw huge piles of debris lining up both sides of the street and wondered how long it would take the city to pick it up and move it out. I saw the house in disarray and wondered what it is like to be uprooted from it and not know when they’ll be able to move back in. Yet they were fortunate compared to some people who completely lost their homes and had no place to go on top of that.
We pulled up two wooden floors that were glued to concrete. Then men tore down the kitchen ceiling that had termite damage. We hauled it away using a wheelbarrow and a plastic storage container. The bottom half of walls were already removed by volunteers who had come in the past. I noticed that the top half of the walls were painted fun colors, displayed family photos, and held faith-based décor.
We took breaks in the backyard where the young girls were jumping on a trampoline and the women were caring for their infant brother. We saw chickens running around and loved on a couple of puppies who had been left behind during the flood but managed to survive. A third puppy had drowned to death. We ate a bagged lunch that volunteers had dropped off earlier in the day. We saw a truck pass through with volunteers offering us cleaning supplies and trash bags. When our time was up, we felt good about what we had done and the family was very grateful. We left and headed back to the church, where we enjoyed a catered BBQ lunch.
Prior to coming to Houston, I watched news coverage of the hurricane and anxiously waited to learn if our house would be okay to move into and if Mission Year would happen as scheduled. Everything felt up in the air at that time. But God allowed for us to be here at this time to serve these people. And Houston is a strong city that has handled the situation extremely well.
Image credit: Claire Waterman
Jelenny Martinez is a current Mission Year Houston team member. Originally from Brentwood, NY, she attended the University of South Florida. Learn more or support her by visiting her donation page or blog.