By TJ Baker
HOUSTON – Renea Gray is President & Executive Director of Helping Hands to the Community. The brochure reads, “The storm has passed, but the road to recovery is just beginning.” And to a lot of Hurricane Harvey victims that is the dog-on truth! Even I know some people that are still trying to repair and reconstruct damages caused by Harvey’s devastation.
One of Helping Hands’ programs, the I Still Need Help campaign is a call-to-action to raise money for hurricane survivors in order to help them recover. With the support of corporations, small businesses and individuals, Helping Hands will provide direct services and resources to families still in need of help. Not only that, Helping Hands was developed to help seniors, the underserved and disabled and the veteran populations. The program was established to assist families which are regularly disqualified from other programs. The underserved population and anyone who receives TANF, WIC, Food Stamps, CHIP, SSI or are on a fixed income are eligible for the program and are assessed prior to participation.
This is important because after Hurricane Harvey many families were disqualified by other agencies. Some families received damage to their homes and were unable to make the necessary repairs. Therefore, Helping Hands has home improvement donations that will assist these families. Many donations include paint, plumbing, electrical and other home repair items needed as a gateway to people in recovery – all free of charge.
You know the Energizer – Pink Bunny that say, “It keeps on going and going and going?” Well Helping Hands to the Community… just keeps on giving and giving and giving. To that regard, they also offer a free Apprenticeship Training Program called, Training for A Career Without Tuition.
So, I would say, with all of this Renea Gray is doing exactly what her program was designed to do and that is truly helping communities. Recently, I was able to interview the brilliant woman behind the program; which not only helps Harris County, but also Fort Bend, Montgomery and Waller counties and surrounding areas.
TJ: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me. I’m sure our readers will be very interested in finding out more about your organization. First of all, can you tell me what led to the creation of your organization?
Gray: Well, I started this organization at the age of 22. My team and I started out feeding the homeless. Over the years, we expanded to chair different programs and services as it relates to the whole family, because we know they did not become homeless overnight…
We believe in empowerment, we believe inspiring, lifting and re-building families. So, we give you the necessary tools so that you can be a part of that process. That’s why we always use the word, ‘Yes’. We very seldom use the word No. Because when you tell a person no, they already see it – they’re already living it. You say let’s work on it together. That gives them hope.
TJ: What are some of the ways you can help people of our community receive help?
Gray: Right now, we’re full-time Case Management Agency. We service the whole family by providing a case management plan that gets you from point A to point B or wherever you’re trying to go. Whether it’s getting a new start in life, a new career, going back to school, getting re-employed or whatever those choices may be to lead you into your new step…
We provide temporary and permanent housing. We also use the SRO programs for people that are low income. We network with other agencies that provide vouchers and housing vouchers. We also work with the senior, disabled and elderly communities. The veteran community is being populated, growing day by day so we definitely provide services for those men and women.
We also have trade classes like; electrical, plumbing, AC and garage door repair. For clarification, it’s only workshops. We are not a school; we don’t give you credits, and we’re not state or federally-funded. These classes are centered around people who want to go to work, and not necessarily go to school.
We’re also opening up a food pantry, so that we will be able to serve the entire city of Houston. We do not serve by zip code, so everyone is welcome to come to the food pantry…
TJ: On your website, you point out that churches and non-profits can partner with you to receive a monthly supply of goods to help the community around them. Can you explain how that works?
Gray: Yes, we have partnered with 3,500 name brand retailers. We receive on-going distributions ranging from books to bedding and house-hold items; from clothing to toys; from cleaning supplies to auto parts and so much more. It’s all brand new and we get these items weekly. The retailers that we have a relationship with sends us their inventory of return and discontinued items. So, we gather those items and build partnerships in the community with churches and non-profit agencies; so, they can come our way and pick out items they can use to serve the community and the families they pastor or provide services to.
TJ: Do you recruit volunteers from surrounding communities to help your organization? And if so, how do they contact you to volunteer?
Gray: Well, yes, we do. We work with organizations and non-profits, rather it’s with a youth or elderly group that will come in and volunteer. We’re also working with fraternities and sororities to have them to bring in volunteers as well.
TJ: What can you tell us about your apprenticeship training program?
Gray: Our apprenticeship program is centered around short-term trades. We want to get young adults as well as older men and women into trades that build a lifetime of support for their families. So, we pick trades like electrical plumbing, AC heating and garage door repairs. Because, once you have them and you know the skill, no one can take it away from you. Therefore, we offer workshops that center around post trade, so you can get better. We also help you apply for an apprentice license. So, once you get it, you start building your 200 hours. Once you do that, we give you a test and then you go to work.
TJ: How does your program that targets veterans, seniors, the disabled and the underserved work? How does your program target them?
Gray: Well, we work with quite a few HTC non-profit agencies that does case management as well. They serve families in the community and when they have a need, they refer them to us. We then, pick up the additional support services that, that family might need. We also have a voucher program which targets veterans, seniors, the disabled and underserved families in the community.
Photo credit: Priscilla Graham Photography