Pete Villarreal—along with his wife, 9-year-old son, and 7-year-old daughter—is among the homeowners moving into Hope Meadows, a new 40-home subdivision in Victoria County, Texas.
“We’re really ecstatic about this new home,” says Villarreal, who works as a materials coordinator in the pipeline industry.
He’s already met a few of his future neighbors, and has also been lending a hand, helping volunteers who are working on his home. “We’ve gone out there to help the volunteers because we like to put a face with the home,” he says.
Villarreal and his family are an integral part of a collaboration that, more than two years after Hurricane Harvey struck, is bringing a sense of hope and belonging to storm survivors who lost everything.
When Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Executive Director Kevin King met Victoria County Commissioner Danny Garcia, King noted that Garcia looked like he hadn’t slept in two weeks. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Can you help my people?’ When a neighbor is in need, we go help them,” says King.
On the 23-acre piece of land, another 10 homes will be dedicated on April 20. What King describes as “a spark coming alive” has been witnessed in the organizations that collaborated to make Hope Meadows a reality.
The Rebuild Texas Fund donated $1.4 million to MDS for work on 20 homes. Other National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster partners were “all in” from the very beginning as well. In fact, the project is a collaboration between MDS, Victoria Long-Term Recovery Group, Samaritan’s Purse, Disaster Aid Ohio, and Golden Crescent Habitat for Humanity. Support also came from the Rebuild Texas Fund, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
Cristina Cornejo, program manager for the Rebuild Texas Fund, says that no one organization at the table in Texas has worked in a vacuum. “What was eyeopening for me is that MDS and the other organizations were not just fantastic grantees but great collaborative partners. It was really equitable and honest.”
That collaboration has been so effective because everyone involved has been willing to put the needs of the people and the community first, ahead of any other concerns, reflected Sally Ray, director of the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund. “From the beginning, the organizations involved knew that, to pull this off, we all needed to open our hearts and our minds and come to the table recognizing that it would take all of us working together to be successful here,” she says. “One or two organizations would not have been able to do something of this magnitude; instead it’s taken a crew of us working together to help Bloomington build its resilience.”
It’s not uncommon to involve multiple partners in a disaster recovery effort, but Hope Meadows has been particularly exemplary, says Vicki McCuistion, disaster recovery asset manager for UMCOR. “Hope Meadows has been a successful partnership because the leadership of the Victoria County Disaster Recovery Group has been thoughtful and collaborative and the multiple partners they brought together have put the needs of the survivors first.”
Brent Graybeal, director, US Recovery & Development (North American Ministries) for Samaritan’s Purse, expressed thanks for the opportunity to help more deserving families return home after they lost so much in Hurricane Harvey. “During the project’s groundbreaking ceremony in September, many of these organizations praised the Lord for the opportunity to be a part of something so important to the Victoria County community,” he says.
Such exemplary collaboration has, in the end, real winners: the homeowners, and the future of the larger community.
Villarreal said he continues to focus on the good things that happen. “To my core, I believe God takes care of you. I believe He helps us through other people. I’m only a tool to help other people.”
Villarreal added that someday he wants to volunteer for MDS and help build a home besides his own. “I keep getting blessed. So I feel like I need to do more,” he says.
Susan Kim, MDS