Coping Through Compassion and Volunteerism: Hometown Healing Marks First Anniversary

By Shannon Dillon |

It’s 99 degrees outside, but feels like 108. It’s early August and the sun is bearing down on 45 volunteers as they work in the Burbank neighborhood in north Houston collecting trash and debris from alongside sidewalks, shoveling and tilling soil for a new butterfly garden, and holding steady a wooden beam that will support a new little library. All around, sweat-soaked royal blue T-shirts read “Memorial Hermann Community Volunteer.” The volunteers are Memorial Hermann employees and their family members who have come together on a Saturday morning to volunteer their time making the community a better place for all.

“Volunteering in the community is a great opportunity to really step in to the reality that even though our focus and privilege is to care for patients when they come in to our sites, the vast majority of their lives and what impacts their health occurs outside of Memorial Hermann,” said Dr. Anne Pearson, senior vice president and CEO, Physician Organization, Memorial Hermann. “Stepping outside our walls truly provides us with a chance to meet our communities where they are and support what they need.”

Memorial Hermann is celebrating a year of Hometown Healing, a service campaign launched a year ago to commemorate the first anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. In the past year, hundreds of Memorial Hermann volunteers have donated more than 7,500 volunteer hours.

Dr. Pearson said that participating in Hometown Healing is about giving back to people beyond the health system’s care delivery sites – even if it means that she will get dirty in the process. She joined dozens of others recently at the project at Burbank Middle School, an initiative coordinated between the Memorial Hermann Community Benefit Corporation along with other partners to address the neighborhood’s need for safer sidewalks and additional educational resources. Houston’s District H Councilwoman Karla Cisneros, who represents the Burbank community, said she was grateful for Memorial Hermann’s involvement. A former third grade teacher, Cisneros donated a Little Free Library, which Memorial Hermann volunteers installed at the school. The library puts books into the hands of children who may not otherwise be able to access them.

“Memorial Hermann has been instrumental in bringing in resources, volunteers, and other partners to invest in and strengthen the Northline area,” she said. “Memorial Hermann’s commitment to continue providing these volunteer opportunities does a world of good not just for people living here but also for the volunteers who share their time and energy to make a difference.”

 The Burbank volunteer opportunity was one of four volunteer projects Memorial Hermann employees participated in early August. More than 300 employees and their family members registered to participate in the projects.

At Houston Children’s Charity, employees came face-to-face with 1,000 families at a drive-up backpack distribution that resulted in more than 4,000 children receiving backpacks filled with supplies, books and food vouchers. A similar backpack drive took place at PlazAmericas Mall in southwest Houston where Memorial Hermann employee volunteers worked with The Alliance for Multicultural Community Services to distribute nearly 3,000 backpacks filled with supplies. The free back-to-school drive, which was attended by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, provided undergarments to families, haircuts and a health expo at which the Memorial Hermann Community Benefit Corporation provided health resources to families. And in Galveston County, employees volunteered alongside 4B Disaster Response Network workers to restore homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

Harvey may have occurred two years ago, but its impact is still present, triggering a range of emotions for those who experienced it. To rekindle the community spirt following the storm, Memorial Hermann created Hometown Healing to soothe some of the community’s trauma by giving employees an opportunity to put their caring into action.

Harvey Didn’t Wash Away Hope

Launched in August 2018 on the weekend of the first anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, the service campaign aimed to give employees and affiliated physicians a way to not only honor the significant event in Houston’s history, but to also contribute to the ongoing recovery efforts and pay it forward through projects that benefit the Greater Houston area.  

Approximately 1,500 Memorial Hermann employees, together with their loved ones, participated in the inaugural service projects. Since the campaign’s inception, Memorial Hermann has partnered with the Houston Food Bank, Montgomery County Food Bank, Avenue Center Capital Campaign for a beautification project at Marshall Middle School and SBP AmeriCorps to restore homes in northeast Houston damaged by Harvey. In addition, Memorial Hermann employees and their families have created holiday cards for seniors and homebound adults who utilize Meals on Wheels.

“What Memorial Hermann knows is if you concentrate on a community and work with that community, you can make the difference and the community can see the difference,” said Carol Paret, senior vice president and Chief Community Health Officer at Memorial Hermann. “The need in Houston is never-ending and it’s only by getting out and taking it in bits that a change will occur. These aren’t just one-time projects, they are gifts that help the community move forward. This is the two year anniversary of Harvey and people are still suffering so we just can’t forget. Whether that’s volunteering at one of the local food banks, planting a community garden, or painting steps at a school – it all helps to brighten the community and make the community healthier. That’s what Memorial Hermann is all about and that’s why Memorial Hermann has been providing community outreach through Hometown Healing for the past year.”

Bolstering the Community Now for a Brighter Future

While providing patient care is the core of Memorial Hermann’s commitment, it’s not the full story.

“Since 1995, Memorial Hermann has had an active community presence where we go out into the community, identify needs and meet those needs,” Paret said. “Whether it’s through our 10 school-based health centers that provide free medical, dental and mental health care to kids or whether it is cleaning up a park and bringing soccer back to the park so that kids have physical activity, our programs are expanding and we want to see that continue to evolve.”

Since the impact of Harvey is still being felt by families who are displaced or trying to adjust to a new normal, ongoing assistance is critical to the sustainability of the community and that’s why Memorial Hermann’s legacy is rooted in helping people from all walks of life.

“From my experience people want to help, they just often don’t know how,” Cisneros said. “Which is why Memorial Hermann’s Hometown Healing is so important.  It is an opportunity to connect their employees to a way to give back while bringing meaningful change to the neighborhood. Thank you, Memorial Hermann, for your commitment to bettering our community.”

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