Published on October 03, 2017

Genesis Mission Extends to Hurricane Relief

Genesis employees Vanessa Lee and husband, James Kennedy, had both experienced hurricanes in their native Texas.  They knew the chaos and upheaval the storms could create.

Recalling their own experiences, they felt a calling to help in some way when Hurricane Harvey left a path of devastation.

Vanessa, Business Development Specialist at Genesis, and James, intern in the Genesis Legal Department, both grew up in Southeast Texas.  They asked family and friends in Texas for a list of what was truly needed to begin the rebuilding process.

They received a long list of materials in short supply. Among the items on the diverse list were: clothes, socks and underwear, building materials, toys and games, tool boxes and tools, box fans, food, diapers, bleach, gloves, and so much more.

“Our friends and family down there were going out and doing these heroic things,’’ Vanessa explained. “They were opening up their homes to people who needed someplace to go and helping clean homes out.

Hurricane in Texas

“Even though we were not living there, it was still our history and we were part of that community. That’s where we came from. I know what this feels like. My family had a FEMA trailer after Rita when we were out of our home for months. If we could do something, we felt we should do it.’’

Vanessa and James were able to secure items on the list locally through their own funds, donations from their church, Grace United Church of Christ in Wilton, Ia., and monetary donations through a account. Donations also came from a variety of other sources, including colleagues at Genesis, friends and relatives.

“My sister works at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. They had an employee drive and they donated diapers, dog food, blankets, clothes, pretty much anything you can imagine,’’ Vanessa said.

A family in Cedar Rapids donated a trailer, and they found a man in rural Iowa who had several barns full of tools and other materials.

“He charged us $50 for all of these tools, gas cans, painting materials, lights, buckets, you name it,’’ Vanessa said. “It was a lot of stuff others needed.’’

One of their first stops after arriving in Texas was an especially devastated neighborhood.  The video of their drive into the neighborhood is stunning.  On both sides of the street, every house had huge piles of trash, carpets and ruined household items that had been hauled from the houses to the street.

Vanessa and James invited residents in the neighborhood to take what they needed from the truck and trailer.

“It was very much word-of-mouth. The people in the neighborhood were very timid at first. These are humble, hard-working people. They didn’t like the idea of taking handouts,’’ Vanessa said. “But we would show them what we had and just ask, ‘could you use this?’ We’d tell them, ‘this is a gift from me to you, don’t look at it as a handout.’’’

Another stop on their trip was the First Baptist Church in Port Neches, which was serving as a temporary warehouse for donated items. Church members and people in the neighborhood could take what they needed. The church also served as a shelter for volunteers from other states who had shown up to help families remove the muck from their homes.

Most of what Vanessa and James had left was donated to the church efforts.

“We did what we could, but the need is so great,’’ Vanessa added.

There was one more stop. Vanessa and James made a trip to the Woodlands, Texas to donate wedding dresses to Hailey Ricks, a wedding planner who organized a benefit called Veil or High Water for brides-to-be who had lost everything. Dresses for upcoming weddings had been ruined by flooding, along with everything from wedding invitations to reception supplies. Venues for weddings and receptions had also been flooded or damaged, forcing changes in plans. Weddings were postponed because of the losses.

Genesis employee Elizabeth Avenia was one of the dress donors.

“We are proud to call you our friends, family, co-workers and community,’’ Vanessa said of the people who made donations.  “Without you, we would never have been able to help these people.’’

The Genesis Health System mission to provide compassionate, quality health services to all those in need does not stop within the confines of Genesis facilities and isn’t limited to work shifts. Thanks to Vanessa, James and to everyone who contributed to this relief effort for living the Genesis mission.