MDS a partner in Texas rebuilding effort

‘All the people that participated in this program did so out of the goodness of their hearts’

June 30, 2021 | News | Volume 25 Issue 14D
Mennonite Disaster Service
Ron Guenther, MDS’s director of operations, right, presents a quilt to Misty Minshew and her son on May 20 during a dedication service for the last 13 homes in the Tierra de Esperanza, or “Land of Hope,” community in Woodsboro, Texas, four years after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the area. (MDS photo by Paul Hunt)

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and Disaster Aid Ohio, in partnership with the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group, dedicated the last 13 homes in the Tierra de Esperanza, or “Land of Hope,” community in Woodsboro, Texas, on May 20, bringing to completion an unprecedented three-year effort.

At a dedication ceremony, held at Sainte Therese Catholic Church in Woodsboro, Christopher Brandt, executive director of the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group, described how Tierra de Esperanza began when a small group of visionaries refused to give up, despite an initial lack of resources in Woodsboro, home to 1,344 people hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“All the people that participated in this program did so out of the goodness of their hearts,” he said.

That goodness brought to completion the 1.5 hectare neighbourhood, located about 64 kilometres north of Corpus Christi, valued at CDN$2.8 million. The first 10 homes were dedicated in March.

“I’m truly humbled by the experience,” said Brandt. “When I was driving here today, I thought: who could ever build 23 houses during a pandemic amid soaring labour costs? You all are the ones who did it in such challenging times.”

Tom Smucker, MDS Hurricane Harvey coordinator, recalled the first conversation in early 2019 that sparked the vision for Tierra de Esperanza. MDS’s involvement began when Christine Cornejo—at that time president of the Rebuild Texas Fund—contacted Smucker, asking how MDS could help in Woodsboro.

“She pushed and pushed to get MDS to come down to Refugio County and see what they have here,” Smucker said. “It began with a vision and with tenacity.”

Standing with Smucker, Cornejo also remembered that very first conversation. “I said to Tom, ‘I need you to come see: come see that there’s room for new households here—it’s not just repair work.’ He said he had a few minutes. I said, ‘that’s all I need.’”

By the time Donna Rosson, board president of the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group, heard what Cornejo and Smucker were cooking up, she realized this was the biggest disaster recovery effort this small town had ever seen.

“I probably looked like a deer in the headlights,” she said, laughing. “But everybody had their own niche and their own jobs to do, and we all worked really well together. It took an army of willing souls, and hundreds of skilled hands and big hearts.”

The 23-home community will change the lives not only of the occupants, but also of generations to come, Cornejo said. “Twenty-three of you have a new home and a safe place to live with your kids, your parents and your grandparents,” he said to the homeowners at the dedication ceremony.

After homeowners received their keys, many went straight to their homes to unlock the doors for the first time.

Eleasar Franco drove two hours to see Edna Sue Franco, his sister, receive her keys. As her brother pushed Edna Sue’s wheelchair up a ramp through the front door, her face lit up. “Look at that kitchen,” she said “It’s gorgeous.” She wheeled over to the kitchen table, gently touching the surface. “Made out of wood,” she said. “It’ll last forever.”

Her brother smiled. “Somebody needs to do some cooking,” he said.

Woodsboro Mayor Kay Roach said the completion of Tierra de Esperanza didn’t mean that long-term recovery from Hurricane Harvey is over. The storm caused $125 billion in damage, according to the National Hurricane Center—more than any other natural disaster in U.S. history except Hurricane Katrina.

“I hope the relationships we’ve made here aren’t over because we have so much more to do,” Roach said. “God has given us the opportunity to make changes.”

Atlee Kauffmann, who coordinated the work of volunteers from Disaster Aid Ohio, agreed with local officials that Tierra de Esperanza was able to go from a vision to reality because people were willing to build genuine relationships even under post-disaster duress.

“In Ohio, when we first heard about Hurricane Harvey, we had no idea how many lives had been impacted all the way in Ohio,” he said. “It’s amazing what can be done if everyone works together and nobody is concerned about who gets the credit.”

Ron Guenther, MDS’s director of operations, right, presents a quilt to Misty Minshew and her son on May 20 during a dedication service for the last 13 homes in the Tierra de Esperanza, or “Land of Hope,” community in Woodsboro, Texas, four years after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the area. (MDS photo by Paul Hunt)

Don Horst, MDS’s project director, does some final touches to a home in the Tierra de Esperanza, or “Land of Hope,” community in Woodsboro, Texas, four years after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the area. (MDS photo by Paul Hunt)

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