A week ago yesterday I had the honor of attending a gathering at the La Palma Event Center to celebrate the work of volunteers who have given so much to our community in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. It was an intimate gathering hosted by Rockport Hands of Hope (RHOH), a non-profit organization helping the residents of the Coastal Bend repair their hurricane-damaged homes.
I’ve covered a lot of things since Hurricane Harvey, but never quite understood exactly what or who RHOH was, how it was formed, etc. I just knew they did a lot of good work helping those in need, and they had some connection with First Baptist Church.
I learned a lot at the Dec. 4 celebration, and received more information/clarification in a conversation the next day with RHOH Executive Director Cyndi Powell.
Immediately after Harvey it was organized chaos on the streets.
On day four after the Hurricane First Baptist Church set up a donations center providing water, food, toiletries, and cleaning supplies. The center passed out as many as 300 bags of goods per day and drove food and water out into yet unreached areas. The center was opened through the month of December.
The State of Texas asked First Baptist Church to house the Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) as the place for outside volunteers to connect with jobs needing to be done. AmeriCorps was instrumental in helping local volunteers direct those coming to help.
On this side of the bridge, the parking lot of the old HEB seemed to be the place to go for water, supplies, etc.
As time went on, things spread out a bit. There was a donation tent in the old HEB parking lot, and volunteers were asked to report to what became known as the Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) at First Baptist. In the area of donations/volunteers, things started getting a little blurry in my mind, all the while knowing a lot of great work was being done.
The church, which received heavy damage, was also the pictorial backdrop for the visit of Vice President Mike Pence, the Rev. Franklin Graham, et al.
So here goes my attempt at an explanation about what I learned/clarified last week.
RHOH was started in 2016 (before Harvey) as a mission of First Baptist Church because people in the community needed help with “tangible” things.
“We started out doing exactly what we’re doing now, but now on steroids,” said Powell.
After Harvey, Pastor Scott Jones asked Youth Minister Jordon Mims to take on the responsibility of matching jobs to volunteers.
Powell handled donations, which flowed into RHOH.
After Harvey the workload for RHOH grew to the point where the church found it necessary to have the organization break off from the church itself, and form its own nonprofit organization.
RHOH is now a separate organization, awaiting its official designation as a 501c3 nonprofit.
It has it’s own board, headed by President Tish Tamez.
Powell was recently named executive director of the organization.
The story behind how Powell and Mims came to work together is interesting.
Several years ago Powell’s job was basically phased out due to changes made in the medical field.
She asked God to lead her to where she could best serve, and that led to a call to Mims more than two years ago.
Ironically, Mims was praying God would bring someone to the church to work with him who had good organizational skills, noting that is not his strength.
“I first started working with Jordan behind the scenes with the high school ministry and Hands of Hope,” said Powell. “We have been working together since then!”
The rest, they say, is history.
Very few folks have any idea about what goes on inside the walls of First Baptist Church since the storm.
To say Harvey changed the mission of this particular congregation would be an understatement.
One may not know what all is being accomplished through RHOH, but rest assured, if it did not exist, we would all know it.
I didn’t really want to attend the Dec. 4 celebration because I had a lot on my plate that evening But, for some reason, I arrived pretty much on time, and ended up staying to the end, more than two hours later.
After a nice meal, four individuals representing volunteer groups shared their stories. The floor was then opened for comments. All were heartfelt and tugged on the heartstrings of this scribe.
Brian Kinney of 4 Him Ministries spoke first. It is headquartered at Lake Tyler Baptist Church in Tyler, TX.
Kinney is in Rockport for the 20th time since Harvey, and said, “When I asked God where he needed us, He kept saying, ‘Rockport, Rockport, Rockport.’
“We can’t not come. We’ve been given that burden.”
His church only has 175 members, but 4 Him Ministries has logged 24,000 miles, 6,700 man-hours, and raised $100,000.
“We serve an awesome God,” said Kinney. “That’s the only way this can happen.
“We partnered with RHOH and they’ve put us in touch with so many people.”
The church brought kids to Rockport on a mission trip in March and August.
“Those kids, ages 12 to 18, really grew up (because they came here).
“Harvey was devastating to your community, but much good has come of it.
“It’s an honor for us to be here and work side by side with you,” he said
Canadian Leroy Plett of the Recreational Vehicle Disaster Corps (RVDC) spoke next.
“We were heading to Houston (after Harvey),” he said. “We had never heard of Rockport.
“We asked where we were needed most and were told to go to Refugio. We had never heard of Refugio either.”
He said he and his wife drove to the VRC in Refugio, but learned it was only open each week Thursday to Saturday.
“We came down here to work,” he said.
Plett noted when the RVDC settled in Rockport, people didn’t know what they needed.
“It was very emotional,” he said. “We were spent at the end of every day, but we weren’t here very long before we knew we were coming back.”
He closed his comments saying, “If you’re going to pray for anything, pray for more volunteers.”
Randy Pace, representing a group call Act Now For Rockport, which was organized in Boerne, said, “Most of us had a home in Rockport, but are from Boerne.”
He noted his group is not the boots on the ground type, but it fills a niche, providing more than $50,000 to help young working families.
“It has been a beautiful experience,” he said. “God has made a difference in Rockport.”
Nathan “Demo Dude” Lalli of Mockingbird Demolition has demolished many homes in Aransas County since Harvey.
“There are many people who can rebuild because of the work he did,” said Powell.
Lalli, who lives just down the road in Portland, shrugged off the praise, noting Coastal Bend residents “lived this, and God has brought us through this.
“He has provided over, and over, and over.
“Everything we have done has only been done through the power of Jesus Christ.
“We have much bigger work to do than just rebuild.
“If we don’t respond to what we are called to do, it doesn’t matter how many demolitions we do.
“Keep your faces turned to God, and He will provide the answers,” said Lalli.
A slide show, showing volunteers in action, was followed by comments from the crowd.
Suffice it to say the stories shared about the selfless work being done, and the suffering of many Coastal Bend residents, whetted many an eye.
Government programs definitely have their place in the rebuilding of the Coastal Bend, but volunteers, who have traveled, and continue to return here, have filled the voids no government can fill, magically touching the hearts and souls of our residents and making them “whole again”.
May God bless every volunteer who has helped us in our recovery.
Until next week, have a good week.
Mike Probst can be reached at email@example.com.