The Key to Community

By Shannon Dillon

“When everything is all said and done, I want to invite everyone back here for a party to help me celebrate being able to finally get back into my home,” said Evelyn Phillips.

Phillips glanced at the volunteers inside of her home and then closed her tear-filled eyes to listen to the sounds hinting that she was getting closer to returning to how life was prior to August 2017. She heard the sounds of a new beginning: the retracting of a tape measure, the high-pitched buzzing from a table saw piercing quarter rounds, the clinkering of paint buckets, and knees shuffling across protective floor paperboard as volunteers caulked baseboards and trim.

She opened her eyes and walked up to a volunteer with her arms outstretched. “Are you with Memorial Hermann too?” Phillips asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Theresa Peel, a System Services clinical solutions manager at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. “The work looks good,” Phillips said. “We’re trying,” responded Peel.

“I don’t care how hard you try – it looks good,” Phillips assured Peel and the other volunteers.

Peel was among 25 Memorial Hermann Health System employees who signed up to rebuild and restore Phillips’ home in November for Hometown Healing, an ongoing service campaign that launched on the weekend of the first anniversary of Hurricane Harvey as a way for employees and affiliated physicians to engage the community through volunteer projects throughout the Greater Houston area.

In November, Memorial Hermann employees, together with their loved ones, partnered with SBP AmeriCorps, a national disaster relief organization that has been rebuilding northeast Houston homes with the greatest need since August 2017.

For the 68-year-old retired school crossing guard for Houston Independent School District, community is everything. Neighbors helping neighbors is what led to Phillips learning about SBP AmeriCorps and applying for assistance for homeowners in disaster-impacted areas. In the months after Harvey, Phillips’ journey toward getting back on her feet led her to the 5th Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation where she was connected to additional resources. Since Harvey, Phillips, who earns a fixed income, has lived with her daughter and 4-yearold granddaughter. Although her two-year journey has included setbacks and disappointments, Phillips has not lost faith that everything will work out for the best, thanks to the compassion of strangers who have unselfishly donated their time to rebuild her home and the support of her neighbors who have kept watch over her home to prevent further vandalism while construction efforts are underway.

“I’ve lived in my home since 2009 and the love from the community is one of the reasons I love calling Houston home,” said Phillips. “If one neighbor is down, we all get together and help others any time one of us is in need. That’s what community means to me.”

Thanks to the generosity of volunteers, Phillips is looking forward to returning to a sense of normalcy.

“Thank you all so much for volunteering and helping me to get me back into my home. I really appreciate it,” Phillips said.

The Heart of Hometown Healing

Since the inception of Hometown Healing in 2018, Memorial Hermann has partnered with:

• The Houston Food Bank

• The Montgomery County Food Bank

• The Avenue Center Capital Campaign for a beautification project at Marshall Middle School

• Memorial Hermann Medical Group Physicians at Sugar Creek to beautify a community garden

• Burbank Middle School to beautify a community garden and to build a little library at the 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.

Through Hometown Healing, Memorial Hermann employees and affiliated physicians have volunteered more than 8,300 hours to community projects throughout the Greater Houston area.

According to the City of Houston Housing and Community Development Department, more than 209,000 Houston homes were damaged or destroyed by Harvey. The impact is still being felt by families who are displaced or trying to adjust to a new normal and ongoing assistance is critical to the sustainability of the community.

Memorial Hermann hosts Hometown Healing volunteer projects for employees and affiliated physicians quarterly as a reflection of a commitment to help people from all walks of life.

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Ali Vise