Foundation for SETX awards $320K to 10 hurricane relief projects

The Foundation for Southeast Texas announced the recipients of the second round of grants from the $1.5 million Golden Pass Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund on Tuesday, June 5.

The grants will provide $320,000 to local organizations to support hurricane relief and mitigation efforts in Jefferson, Hardin and Orange counties.

“This had a huge impact on our community,” said Mellie Bevilacqua, executive director of the Foundation for Southeast Texas. “Golden Pass was very generous and wanted to make sure they took care of the people of Southeast Texas and participated in getting the community back on its feet. … Many organizations that received money in December have already completed or made significant progress in their efforts. We want to thank everyone who applied for their interest and the critical work they are doing to benefit our community.”

The Foundation for Southeast Texas is awarding $320,000 to 10 projects including:

1. Port Arthur Education Foundation, which will provide replacement computers and technology equipment for Lamar State College – Port Arthur lost during the storm.

2. SETX Civilian Task Force, which will repair homes in the Port Arthur area.

3. Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which will provide housing repairs to families in Southeast Texas.

4. Port Arthur Education Foundation, which will provide replacement uniforms to hundreds of Port Arthur ISD students.

5. Little Cypress-Mauriceville ISD, which will provide replacement technology devices for students.

6. Orangefield High School, which will provide support to purchase materials lost during the storm.

7. Nehemiah’s Vision Inc., which will repair Port Arthur homes damaged or destroyed by the storm.

8. United Board of Missions, which will repair storm-damaged homes in Port Arthur and Sabine Pass.

9. Hardin County Strong Long Term Recovery Team, which will provide home repairs and other services to residents affected by Harvey.

10. Jefferson County Emergency Service District, which will replace emergency gear damaged by the storm and required for emergency response.

“At Golden Pass, our community is very important to us. Whenever the storm hit, our employees hit the ground. Almost half of our employees were flooded, but as soon as we got them some reprieve, we were out hitting homes,” Golden Pass LNG Vice President of Human Resources and Public Affairs Robert Bilnoski said. “Our employees rescued, by themselves, over 800 people during the storm.”

Bilnoski said when the waters receded, the company realized the devastating impact of the storm on the area and how long the recovery process was going to be.

“We approached our shareholders, who asked us to do what we could and they gave us $1.5 million to do it. With that, we’ve been able to (donate) to 20 organizations,” in total to “first responders, rebuilding houses, helping people that need counseling, helping people find new homes.”

Projects providing support in disaster mitigation infrastructure, school materials reimbursement, first responder disaster assistance (including non-official responders), hurricane-damaged housing rehabilitation and public employee disaster assistance were the emphasis for both the first and second rounds of funding. Priority was given to projects directly benefiting Port Arthur and Sabine Pass.

Bilnoski said a large portion of the donation was given to help area first responders.

“Many of our first responders in this region were affected,” he said, “so we concentrated almost $500,000 on first response — firefighters and (police) — in the whole region trying to get them back on their feet.”

Grant applications were vetted by the company to ensure that the most qualified nonprofits were chosen.

“We tried to look at, No. 1, what was the funding request, No. 2, make sure they are 501(c)(3) charitable organization and what’s their history been like on spending the funds on getting the most bang for the dollar and we found that these organizations chosen were the ones, by far, to stand out. That does not mean in any other way that all the other organizations are not worthy. … We tried to reach as far as we could. In this go around, we reached Little Cypress-Mauriceville and Hardin County. We’re trying to touch as many as we can.”

The goal was to help provide relief in three area counties — Hardin, Jefferson and Orange counties — with specific concentration on Port Arthur, which was hit hard by the storm. Bilnoski did say, however, that helping all of Southeast Texas was important to Golden Pass.

“We’re a region,” he said. “We don’t just live in one (city or county).”

One of the nonprofits to receive funding was Nehemiah’s Vision Inc., a nonprofit originally based out of Vidor that is opening a second office in Port Arthur to help repair Port Arthur homes damaged or destroyed by the storm. According to Scott Doss, executive director of Nehemiah’s Vision, the nonprofit received $100,000 June 5 for this effort.

“We want to help as many people as we can,” Doss said. “It all depends on the homeowners’ money and if we’re able to pool with it. … If we’re just putting this on top of their FEMA money to get them back in their homes, we may only need to use $10,000-12,000 a home,” adding that each case is a different situation, and the goal is to help homeowners, whether they have received FEMA money or not, adjusting the amount used to help rebuild their homes on a case-by-case basis.”

Doss said the motivation for his nonprofit, which was founded after Hurricane Rita hit the area in 2005, originates from the Bible verse Nehemiah 2:20, which states, “I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.’”

Doss said rebuilding after hurricanes that hit the area is similar to what Nehemiah did as cup-bearer to Artaxerxes, king of Persia.

Learning that the remnant of Jews in Judah were in distress and that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, he asked the king for permission to return and rebuild the city, Doss said.

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