May 1, 2018

Profiles in Recovery and Rebuilding: The Alliance for Multicultural Community Services

Four people sitting outside

By Monica Gonzalez, Senior Program Director, Gulf Coast

In 2017 Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria wrought destruction across communities from the Gulf Coast to Puerto Rico, disrupting lives and destroying homes. As part of our recovery and rebuilding work, Enterprise created the Enterprise Hurricane Community Recovery Fund to support short-term relief and longer-term efforts in the most heavily damaged areas.

Grantee Q&A

Today, we begin a Q&A blog series with leaders from nonprofits that received fund support to serve low-income residents displaced by the storm.

Immigrants from Cambodia, Ethiopia, Laos and Vietnam started The Alliance to create opportunities for residents to achieve self-sufficiency and improve their quality of life in Rosharon, an agricultural community of 2,000 people, 50 miles south of Houston.

Flooding from Harvey damaged more than 100 homes in Rosharon, forcing families to sleep in tents beset with insects and snakes – and confront the bigger challenge of rebuilding their houses, businesses and lives. 

Photo (AP).jpgWhat were the community’s biggest needs after Harvey?

An Phong Vo (AP), Community Impact Director and Counsel: After the storm, residents ranked their five areas of greatest need – 

  1. Housing repairs – from moderate repairs to full rebuilds
  2. Replacement of lost household items
  3. Transportation to meet basic needs (e.g., to medical appointments, the grocery store)
  4. Agriculture and employment – over half the community is made up of farmer households, and Harvey damaged more than half of the 213 greenhouses 
  5. Disaster preparedness – residents said they received some education a few years ago but didn’t have the resources to implement the recommendations

Where have you made progress?

AP: After comprehensive assessments, we literally mapped out the community’s needs to help develop our strategy. We brought on two community connectors with the support of the Enterprise grant. It has been helpful having them on the ground to understand the challenges and opportunities – and connect community members to the resources they need. That consistency and support has been valuable. 

It’s been seven months since Harvey, how have the community’s needs evolved?

AP: Since Harvey the community has experienced a few heavy rainfalls so drainage is a major ongoing concern. Though with the weather warming and greenhouse repairs, some residents are seeing their crops start up again. 

At the same time, we need to do more education on the health consequences of mold and other substandard conditions. Behavioral and mental health are also key. Many residents are refugees and have dealt with many traumas and probably have PTSD. Discussing behavioral health and trauma is not widely accepted but it must be addressed.  

With Enterprise’s grant funds we will be able to fulfill the commitment we made to the community – to provide capacity building support for one year.  

What challenges have you faced in responding to the community’s needs?

AP: The Alliance wanted to be respectful of the community members and what they were experiencing. They had already dealt with many groups coming in and out of the community to ask questions.  

Although The Alliance helps connect individuals to resources, it doesn’t always mean they get the help they need. We do our best not to overpromise but there can be a cultural gap and lack of understanding about the process and resources. We have to make sure we are doing our best to provide education about available resources.  

What does the community need most right now? 

AP: The community needs capacity building support to be stronger advocates. We also need to revisit what we can do to make sure residents are prepared for the upcoming hurricane season even though they are still recovering from Harvey. We know we can’t do it all on our own. We have to connect the community to other available resources – and respect their leadership while building their capacity. 

What have you learned from this experience? 

AP: Harvey showed us that the human spirit is stronger than anything else. There can be lots of resources but without collaboration some people will get left out. 

The community needs to be heard and involved in the recovery process because their view is the most important. 

You need people on the ground. The community connectors make things more efficient – they also help us build rapport and gain trust and longevity in the community. 

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