It has taken two years, but three Hankamer homeowners are now back in their own homes after Hurricane Harvey blew in, bringing with it historic amounts of rain that flooded Cedar Bayou and turned the area into an unlivable wasteland. 

But now, instead of tears of despair, Anita Brooks, Laura Lewis and Leslie Childress can cry tears of joy thanks to the efforts of the United Way of Greater Baytown Area and Chambers County, St. Vincent de Paul’s Disaster Recovery Services, the Rotary Club of Baytown and the Marcelous-Williams Resource Center. 

Patricia Wells, the Baytown United Way disaster recovery manager, led a team consisting of members of each entity that helped restore the homes belonging to the three Hankamer women to celebrate their homecoming.

Each homeowner received a new welcome mat along with an air-purifying plant.  

“It has been a pleasure seeing what the concerns are and seeing it through to the need,” Wells said. 

At Brooks’ home, the United Way contractors had put in new wood flooring, new cabinets, painted the walls, removed all of the molded walls as well as 

the floors. They also put in new appliances and reworked the bathrooms.

“I love it and appreciate everything they did,” Brooks said. “I just did the best I could and appreciate everything.”

Brooks’ home received 4-feet to 5-feet of water from the storm, which dumped some 60-plus inches of rain. 

“The water came in from every side and was halfway to windows, and the bridge was out,” Brooks said. “It took out everything on one side, and took the stuff I needed.”

Brooks had a contractor begin work, but when John Stewart, a United Way contractor, took on the job, it was completed within a couple of weeks. 

“It is always fun to work with someone who is grateful, and she was always so nice,” Stewart said. 

Wells said Brooks’ home was just that – a home again.

“This is the work,” Wells said, referring to the house. 

Harvey damage also took its toll at Lewis’ home. 

“All of my clothes got wet, and I had to take out all of the carpet,” Lewis said. “Water came through the windows. My sister came out and helped me, and I stayed in a motel for two to three weeks. The water was high. It looked like a river.”

Lewis said she was rescued by boat from her own home. 

Lewis’s home now has new wooden floors, a renovated kitchen, freshly painted rooms, and appliances. 

Childress’ home was renovated with the help of the Rotary Club of Baytown.

She recounted when she first moved to Hankamer and was living in her car. 

“Then, this man gave me a trailer, and I moved it at my expense. I went broke moving a trailer on this spot,” Childress said. “Six to seven months later, the storm came through. The roof started falling in, and the floors were wet and were damaged. I began sleeping in my car because I didn’t like staying with others. I felt like I was crowding their space.”

Childress said FEMA would not help, saying she did not have enough proof of ownership of the home.  

Childress made some phone calls and got in touch with Regina Thibodeaux with St. Vincent de Paul.

“She said she could help,” Childress said. “I told her whatever she could do was fine, but I had to get rid of the house, and got this new building. It is my space. They said they would help. There were a lot of people say they would, but didn’t. But now I got this home, and it is a blessing.”

Wells said Thibodeaux made a strong case for Childress to get her a new home.   

“Fortunately, we partnered with Rotary, and because of the case she fought for you, we were able to collaboratively do what we did here,” Wells said.

The club’s Past President Suzanne Heinrich told how they pitched in and assisted Childress. 

“We had a generous donation to help Harvey victims in the area,” Heinrich said. “We wanted to make sure they met the criteria and United Way had that all in place. So, we were able to partner with them, and we touched some people that didn’t meet all the standard criteria. It has worked out well.”

Childress now has a  home with a living area, bathroom, washer dryer, stove and kitchen. 

Wells said they had restored 42 houses overall within the past two years, finishing 12 just this month. 

Wells and Aunshelle White, a disaster case manager supervisor with St. Vincent de Paul’s Disaster Services, said they will restore as many houses as possible.

Anyone interested can visit the United Way website and fill out the necessary information. The website is www.unitedwaygbacc.org.

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