Imagine a disaster recovery work site where the construction supervisor sings to volunteers at the start of their workday, before confirming their assignments and accompanying them through the day.
That’s what volunteers are finding in Port Arthur, Texas, where UCC Disaster Ministries and partner South East Texas Community Development Corporation (SET CDC) are restoring 17 low-income rental units that Hurricane Harvey flooded with two feet of water last August.
SET CDC has provided affordable housing for Port Arthur residents for more than 30 years, but doesn’t have the resources to rehabilitate the damaged apartments. And renters are a vulnerable community after a disaster, receiving much less federal disaster assistance than homeowners.
Moreover, this once prosperous coastal community has been hard hit by years of economic recession and job outsourcing, pushing more than one-third of the population below the poverty line and the median income to barely half the national average.
"Port Arthur simply cannot recover on its own, which makes our help all the more important," said UCC Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth. In addition to recruiting volunteer mission teams, the UCC has contributed $120,000 to date toward construction materials, appliances and project management.
It may be short on cash, but Port Arthur is long on hospitality, recent volunteers attest.
"Port Arthur was one of the best adult mission trips we’d ever had," said Pastor Kim Henning of Grace Congregational UCC in Two Rivers, Wis., which took a dozen volunteers to Port Arthur this past spring. It was that church’s 22nd mission trip.
The singing, praying construction supervisor, Hermann Hopson "had the right heart," Henning said. "He had building skills as well as spiritual depth. He stayed with us, was attentive to us, was on top of the work projects.
"In addition, we had good housing. We were cared for. It was just a great, healthy experience."