Stuff the Bus 2019

With the school year fast upon us, The Salvation Army of Houston has teamed up with Walmart to provide children in need school supplies through our Stuff the Bus event. On August 3, staff and volunteers will be at 18 Walmart stores throughout Houston and surrounding areas from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to provide shoppers with a list of suggested supplies and to collect their generous contributions. The average family in the U.S. plans to spend $117 per student on school supplies for the upcoming school year, according to Deloitte’s 2019 back-to-school survey. This proves challenging for families that are already struggling financially, especially those with multiple children. The simple act of providing school supplies to students in need gives them a boost of self-confidence and sets them up for a positive and successful school year. All donations made at Stuff the Bus campaign events will remain in the local community and will help The Salvation Army provide back-to-school support to local children in need. 


You can donate school supplies at your local Walmart — see the list of participating stores below. Or donate through our registry online by searching for “Salvation Army” and selecting from our back-to-school lists.


The following list is of local Walmart stores participating in Stuff the Bus on August 3, 2019, at several Walmart locations across Harris, Montgomery, and Fort Bend counties.


  2. 615955 FM 529 ROAD HOUSTON, TX 77095
  4. 3450 FM 1960 ROAD W HOUSTON, TX 77068
  5. 10411 N FREEWAY 45 HOUSTON, TX 77037
  6. 13750 EAST FREEWAY  HOUSTON, TX 77015
  10. 4900 GARTH ROAD BAYTOWN, TX 77521
  12. 3506 HIGHWAY 6 S HOUSTON, TX 77082
  13. 1111 YALE STREET  HOUSTON, TX 77007


  2. 1025 SAWDUST ROAD SPRING, TX 77380
  4. 23561 US HWY 59 PORTER, TX 77365


  1. 345 HIGHWAY 6 SUGAR LAND, TX 77478

Search for an online registry to support local Salvation Army Stuff the Bus efforts from wherever you are! Simply search for “Salvation Army” in the Walmart Registry to shop our back-to-school lists and help families in need.

The Salvation Army Houston International Corps Boys & Girls Club Grand Opening

On Thursday, May 30, 2019, The Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command will proudly launch The Salvation Army Houston International Boys & Girls Club.

At The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, we believe that every kid deserves a great future. By providing a spiritual aspect to The Boys & Girls Clubs, we give children a strong, lifelong foundation to help them achieve their goals. We achieve this good with the help of so many who share our compassion.

Our most diverse Corps Community Center, with members representing 23 different nationalities and speaking 17 different languages, International opened its doors in 2003 in Southwest Houston.

International offers a wide range of services, including but not limited to adult education classes, a food pantry, and now the Salvation Army Houston Boys & Girls Club after school and summer day camp programs for youth. The Corps (church) Spiritual Ministry includes Sunday worship at 9:30 a.m. and weekly prayer meetings.

Our Boys & Girls Club programs and experiences focus on helping kids reach great futures. We prepare kids and teens for high school graduation, college and careers by building the skills needed to succeed in today’s globally competitive workforce.

We teach kids and teens how to be responsible, engaged citizens and innovative, resilient leaders through mentorship, accountability and modeling good behavior.

We are committed to helping kids and teens build healthy habits for life by making sure they’re active, engaged and able to make healthy decisions.


What: The Salvation Army Houston International Corps Boys & Girls Club Grand Opening

When: Thursday – May 30, 2019

6:30 PM

Where: The Salvation Army Houston International Corps

7920 Cook Rd,

Houston, Texas 77072


Annual Youth of the Year Scholarship Banquet to be held February 20, 2019

The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Houston is proud to announce that this year’s Youth of the Year Scholarship Awards Banquet will take place Wednesday, February 20, 2019, at 6 p.m., at the River Oaks Country Club, located at 1600 River Oaks Blvd, Houston, TX 77019.

Now in its 14th year, the Youth of the Year program has awarded more than $900,000 in college scholarships to youth in the organization’s community programs, which provide essential support and guidance—in educational, fun environments—to children in underserved areas. Last year, 18 youth received a total of $79,000.

The banquet, chaired by Sara Wise, will honor Jane and Jim Wise for their years of service to and philanthropic support of The Salvation Army Houston.

Scholarship Participants

Participants in the Youth of the Year competition are members of the following The Salvation Army Youth Programs:

  • The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Houston: Aldine Westfield Branch, Garden City Branch, Irvington Branch, Northwest Branch, and Pasadena Branch
  • Upward Bound college preparatory program
  • International Corps Community Center

The competition is divided into three divisions: 12 to 13 years old, 14 to 15 years old and 16 to 18 years old. Winners from each category will deliver their inspirational speeches at the banquet.

How You Can Help

The Awards Banquet is a fundraising event open to the public by ticket purchase or sponsorship. Individual tickets are $175 and levels of sponsorship range from $2,000. The proceeds raised through this year’s banquet will be used for college scholarships and The Salvation Army Houston’s summer day camp programs that serve more than 900 youth every year across five locations. For more information about the banquet or to make a reservation complete your reply card here, and contact Stephanie Tunsel, special events manager for Salvation Army Houston, at 832-201-8022 or

About Youth of the Year

The Youth of the Year program is a national Boys & Girls Clubs initiative, celebrating the extraordinary achievements of Club members and with one club member being selected as the National Youth of the Year.

About The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs

The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs serves over 3,000 children annually with a majority of the Club members coming from disadvantaged circumstances, single parent homes, and some even homeless. Your generosity provides a pathway to “Bright Futures” through strong Christian beliefs and hard work.

To learn more about The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, please call 832-201-8021 or click here:

The Salvation Army of Greater Houston Among First to Receive Bezos Day 1 Families Fund Grant of 5 Million

Today, The Salvation Army of Greater Houston announced it has received a $5 million grant from the Day 1 Families Fund to support the organization’s housing, emergency shelter, rehabilitation, and social services programs for families over the next four years.


The Day 1 Families Fund

The Day 1 Families Fund aims to promote and support organizations that are doing needle-moving work to provide shelter for young families in communities across the country.

The Impact

“Salvation Army Houston works tirelessly to help those in need,” said Major Kent Davis, Houston area commander. “The funding from the Day 1 Families Fund will not only allow us to better serve families experiencing homelessness in the Greater Houston area, but will enable us to truly change the lives of those in our community.”

Salvation Army Houston recently overhauled their emergency housing programs for families by implementing a 30-day solutions model for ending homelessness. This new model incorporates regular meetings between clients and case managers, as well as job training, life skills, recovery, and health and wellness services, among others.

As a result of this model, Salvation Army Houston has reduced the average length of resident stay and has observed a reduced recurrence of homelessness in its system. For example, at The Salvation Army Family Residence, the average length of stay per family has decreased from 180 to 365 days to only 70 days, and almost no clients have experienced a return to homelessness.

In each of the emergency housing facilities, Salvation Army Houston meets needs without discrimination. In 2017, Salvation Army Houston served nearly 6,600 people in its emergency shelters, including veterans, young adults, survivors of human trafficking and people who identify as LGBTQ+.

Working Together to End Homelessness

The Salvation Army of Greater Houston is one of 24 nonprofits to receive the first Day 1 Families Fund grants, totaling $97.5 million. Recipients from around the country include: Abode Services, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, Community of Hope, Community Rebuilders, Crossroads Rhode Island, District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), Emerald Development & Economic Network (EDEN) Inc., FrontLine Service, Hamilton Families, Heartland Family Service, Housing Families First, JOIN, LA Family Housing (LAFH), Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), Primo Center for Women and Children, Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), SEARCH Homeless Services, Simpson Housing Services, The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte, The Salvation Army of Greater Houston, UMOM New Day Centers and Urban Resource Institute (URI).

About the Bezos Day One Fund
Founded by Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, the Bezos Day One Fund consists of two programs: the Day 1 Families Fund that provides grants to nonprofit organizations fighting homelessness, and the Day 1 Academies Fund that will fund and build a network of pre-schools in low-income communities across the country. The Day 1 Families Fund’s vision comes from the inspiring Mary’s Place in Seattle: no child should sleep outside. A small group of expert advisors provided input to the Bezos Day One Fund team to select these organizations. The Day 1 Families Fund will be awarding grants annually. For more information, visit

How Survival Work Supports Recovery

We are all guilty of it. We have all, at some point in our lives thought a job is beneath us. Perhaps the position had menial tasks, physical labor or a title that didn’t garner praise. Americans take ferocious pride in their work-based accomplishments. As a society, we’ve filmed movies, written books and glorified the names of those that have reached the pinnacle of success at work. While we enjoy hearing that the billionaire philanthropist started out sweeping stock rooms to pay their bills, many of us have never been forced into such a position where we had to survive on the pay of such a job.

Work Rebuilds Confidence

“Survival Jobs” as we call them in the Employment Skills class at The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center are the jobs that one takes to accomplish a single goal: to survive. Our emphasis on these jobs is not that they will start a career, but rather will offer compensation and reestablish credibility.

Survival jobs rebuild confidence by repairing the self-image of the employee and while also adding to their resume. While survival jobs are a key part of re-entry into the workforce, they are not the end goal. These jobs represent the beginning of a broader career strategy. The goal is to build a positive reputation with an employer or set the foundation for future job negotiations.

From Survival Work to Rewarding Careers

Many men in our program are afraid to negotiate. Destitution and dependency have shaken their confidence. However, a survival job allows these men to engage employers with confidence. After all, they have a job and don’t need to settle for anything less. This line of thinking casts survival jobs in a more positive light. We know that not all work is career work, but it is the work that lays the foundation for a career.

The promise of a career inspires our men in our program. Survival jobs are just one part of an overall career strategy that will help with the transition to independence. Remember, the billionaire philanthropist also started out working to survive.

About the Author

Russell Whitney volunteers at The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center where he leads a weekly employment skills class for men in recovery. Here he addresses the significance of what some would call a dead-end job for men rebuilding their lives.

HURRICANE HARVEY – Harvey took all my worldly possessions, but I prevailed

The rain drove a constant barrage of water onto the streets of Lakewood in Northeast Houston. The bayou that runs through the neighborhood began to overflow its banks. My mom and I kept a constant watch on the weather, and when the news forecast a nonstop deluge, my siblings insisted we leave.

The news was already informing about the looting happening to businesses just a few miles from our home, so my plan was to stay. I felt that despite my prevailing health condition -a stasis ulcer in my lower extremities, kidney failure, depression, a heart condition, and obesity- I had to stay to protect our home. Despite my resolve, the water kept rising.


As my siblings, my mom, and I, along with all the other inhabitants of our metroplex, monitored the situation, I kept wondering how was I going to make it? Did I need help and assistance? Should I evacuate? Was it really going to be as bad as they said? But the water kept coming. When it reached our doorstep, my siblings arrived to transport us to safety, before it was too late.

We left our home, a home I have lived in all my life, all 49 years of them. The home that contained photos of our late father, grandmother, aunt, and cousin. A home that contained every worldly possession we own. My vehicle, along with my sister’s, had to be left behind. Despite the knowledge of these losses, I reluctantly left for dry ground. I prayed, cried, reminisced, and talked to God about what was happening. I had to leave it all behind, I knew, but that didn’t make it any easier. Once we arrived at my sister’s house, the news showed aerial footage of our neighborhood, and sure enough, the area began to flood.

Outlasting Harvey

Harvey stayed with us for seven days, poured out an overwhelming 52 inches of rain onto Houston and its surrounding areas, and four feet of rainwater into our home. We lost everything. By the time the waters receded, and it was considered safe to return, ten days had passed. The waters left its muddy and sewage-riddled stamp on our home. It destroyed everything: electronics, furniture, clothes, my vehicle, photos, mementos. Everything.

What the rain water didn’t destroy, the mold and mildew in the aftermath did. I remember arriving back at home, everything looked normal and, for a moment, a spring of hope began to trickle in. Then I opened the car door and was bombarded with the smell of our devastation. The rank odor which greeted me was the smell of death. The death of our possessions, the death of our lifestyle, the death of our home. I looked over at my mom, and her face mirrored the desperation that seemed to be creeping up my spine. The eyes which in the past had been my bastion of hope were now glassy with tears, as we beheld the totality of the loss before us.

My knees buckled, and I had to hold onto the door for support. What were we going to do? Where were we going to go? How could we move forward? What could we salvage? So many unanswered questions.

Accessing Loss

Family and friends came out to help us with the removal of all that we knew and had cherished for so long. As possession after possession was brought out of the house, and my mom and I had to decide what could be salvaged, a deeper sense of loss began to creep in and I couldn’t stand. I slumped into a molded chair as spasm after spasm wracked my body from the leg pain, as a result of overexertion. As I sat there and watched memory after memory being carried out and discarded, depression sat in. I couldn’t believe we had gone from a fully-furnished three-bedroom home to an overnight bag and a hotel voucher from FEMA. Walls were torn out, and appliances discarded. The wrecking crew came and in a span of about three hours cleared out 49 years of memories.

Once the house was gutted, it had to be aired, and remodeling had to begin. I couldn’t sit still. I wasn’t the only one to experience loss. Others were sick, depressed, worried and lost. The Salvation Army opened its doors some days after Harvey, and I immediately returned to help.

Healing begins by giving back

At the Salvation Army Aldine Westfield Corps I prayed, signed people in, served meals, counseled, stocked supplies, and drove to affected areas distributing meals, cleaning supplies, and necessities. I noticed that by giving back, I began to experience healing. As my fellow refugees and I bonded over our shared experiences, I realized that it kept me going. So I continued to volunteer. I helped until they stopped providing the immediate assistance. All the while living in a hotel room, visiting our gutted home, and trying to piece back the life that had been destroyed and so quickly taken from me.

As other refugees provided consoling words such as, “God knows best” and “It will be okay.” I sought refuge in the knowledge that God never leaves or forsakes you, and that trials only last for so long, and soon the hardship will end.


It took ten and a half months to completely renovate the home.

In that time, I was hospitalized for two blood clots in each leg, depression and heart complications. But I never lost my faith. I was blessed by The Salvation Army with a new vehicle, furniture, gas money, food, clothing, prayers, words of comfort, and supporting helping hands. It was a true struggle, but The Salvation Army stepped up when I needed them most. From private donors to the Advisory Board, assistance came in different forms. Without them, I don’t think I would be able to say today that I have survived and recovered from Harvey.

About the Author

Patrick Limbrick, a committed volunteer and church member of The Salvation Army Aldine Westfield Corps, lost everything in the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Growing up, Patrick attended The Salvation Army church and Boys & Girls Club programs.

HURRICANE HARVEY – How I got swept by the storm and now lead The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services

When Hurricane Harvey hit, I was asked by The Salvation Army to serve as a Community Liaison, due to the relationships I have across the city of Houston. As you can imagine, the response to Hurricane Harvey required very long hours… long, exhilarating hours, but once I got home, all I could think about was Hurricane Harvey.

Immediate response

Right before Harvey hit, I was about to move into my first house. I was The Salvation Army’s Data and Program Evaluation Manager at the time, and my apartment suffered water damage due to water coming in from the ceiling and walls. Thankfully, our new house was not affected by the storm, and we were able to move in without much delay. I am so grateful that my family and I were not badly affected; this only boosted my desire and drive to help others while I was able to fully immerse myself in my role as Community Liaison.

My role in the immediate response was helping to coordinate where our mobile feeding units (canteens) and Emotional and Spiritual care teams needed to go, by relaying information from the City about where people had yet to receive assistance back to our Incident Command teams, which had flown in from all over the country to lead the charge of The Salvation Army response. After several weeks of managing the feeding and distribution efforts, I then shifted to demobilization– getting equipment, trailers, etc. back to where they belonged and making sure contracts and other agreements made amidst the chaos of the storm were upheld. Up to this point, staff and volunteers joined us from across the country, but once the last team left for home in October, it felt like it was all up to me to figure out what was next and how best to take care of my city.

Shift to relief and recovery

With the amazing local team assembled and at the helm, we moved our operations to a new disaster warehouse, where we were receiving donations and sorting them for distribution to more than 30 local community hubs across our four-county service area (Harris, Fort Bend, Waller, and Montgomery counties). We also began offering gift cards to survivors by partnering with nonprofit organizations who were leading the disaster case management efforts for the city. We then shifted our long-term recovery assistance to financial assistance, which pays vendors directly for materials and goods survivors need to get back into their homes. We provide this assistance through disaster case management referral only, to ensure that clients have access to the full range of services available to the community.

Now that the storm has passed, I am working with my incredible team day and night to help Houston through the Harvey recovery, as well as prepare for the next disaster, whether natural or man-made. Our Corps Officers across the Greater Houston Area jumped at the opportunity to help after the Santa Fe shooting, and they will be ready to provide emotional and spiritual care again at the push of a button. I oversee our Volunteer Coordinator, Alexandria Thomas, who equips both our trained and spontaneous volunteers with the information they need to be impactful, as well as our Warehouse Manager Sarah Smith who expertly makes sure that all donations are accounted for and delivered to places where they will make a difference. Our Long-Term Recovery team which is growing consists of Miyuki Cubas and myself who have been managing the disbursement of our long-term recovery funds/financial assistance. Long-term recovery takes up a lot of my focus right now because we have many collaborating partners and thousands of people to serve, but it will take attention in all areas—preparedness, response, and recovery—to protect the well-being of our community, now and in the future.

Lessons learned from Harvey

This position has not been my first rodeo with Salvation Army; I have served in many different roles, from case manager in social services to bagging toys for Christmas; from data quality and grant reporting to now disaster. I’ve seen a lot of this agency, inside and out, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services personnel from all over the country.

What I’ve learned is that there are many things beyond our control; the best we can do is to prepare, take action when you can, and show love no matter what. When a “storm” hits, whether it’s a natural disaster or a personal disaster (losing a job, a loved one, etc.), we have to focus on what’s most important and do the best we can with what we have to show love to our neighbors— I’m proud to say that Texas does this well in disaster.

Reflecting back

I have tremendous respect for our team of staff and volunteers within The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services, because each person who shows up in a time of need has sacrificed greatly; they have prepared their family, friends, loved ones to be without them for a while so they can spread their love and joy with us in a time of need. I’ve seen everything it takes for an organization to support such a huge region after tremendous loss; the demands are great, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for how much we are able to accomplish together.

I will admit, I am still trying to figure out how I got here. Mentally and spiritually, I feel I got swept up by the storm. I never imagined that I would be managing the disaster services for The Salvation Army in Houston. I have always wanted to make an impact in a meaningful way, so when I was given the opportunity to help the city I love so much, I took it. Today, I feel more confident and empowered than I did a year ago. I have received a lot of support from The Salvation Army, and I know that if another disaster were to strike, there’s an Army of people ready to help.

We are not alone.


Melanie Toarmina Pang is The Salvation Army’s Manager of Emergency Disaster Services. Prior to her current role, she was the Data and Program Evaluation Manager.

Throughout her career, Melanie has served in a variety of communities and capacities, aiming to further equity and lived equality — from advocacy efforts to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in food deserts to serving as a case manager to refugee youth and children in foster care and young adults experiencing homelessness.

Melanie has served as an inaugural co-chair of Mayor Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, the first of its kind in the City of Houston. She was named Social Worker of the Year in 2015 by the National Association of Social Workers Houston and received the President’s Award for Distinguished Community Leadership from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 2016.

She is a proud alumnus of the University of Houston. In 2012, she earned her master’s degree from the UH Graduate College of Social Work and was invited back to the college as an adjunct professor to teach at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. In May of 2018, she was presented the Humanitarian Award by the college of social work’s student association.

HURRICANE HARVEY – Answering the Call to Help Harvey Survivors in Pasadena

Hurricane Harvey One-Year Reflection

My wife and I can still remember the phone call that started it all. The City of Pasadena’s Office of Emergency Management called to ask if we could open our Pasadena Corps Community Center’s doors in case there were neighbors in need, to which we responded that we’d open our gym to serve a hundred people.

After that phone call we had an important decision to make. We have two children and if we wanted to serve our neighbors day in and day out, we knew it would be difficult with them here. God heard our concern for our dear friend Lieutenant Chantel Millin in Temple, Texas called to offer to take care of our kids. I still remember thanking her but letting her know we would call right back. As parents it wasn’t an easy decision. My oldest daughter was scared to leave us here, since we had never experienced a hurricane before. We knew that God would take care of our kids so we sent them to Temple in order to be fully dedicated to serving our neighbors.

It Begins

When Hurricane Harvey hit, we had been at the Pasadena Corps Community Center for two days waiting for the City to call to let us they were sending people our way. My wife and I would look through the windows and we couldn’t believe how strong and devastating the wind and rain were.

Finally, on the third night, around ten at night, the City called saying they were sending the first few neighbors. We were eager to help but also nervous, aware of the reality we were about to face.

First Arrivals

We were anticipating the arrival of a bus, instead we saw a big dump truck full of people in wet clothes. Most of these people had nothing more than what they had on that day. We immediately opened our doors and gave them dry towels and clean clothes to change into. While I was taking care of their clothes, my wife started serving hot coffee and sandwiches we had prepared in advance.

All of them were afraid and shocked about what was happening. All that first night, survivors shared their stories of how their homes were flooded and how they were rescued. While they were processing everything that was happening, we were able to give them a dry place to lay their heads and a warm blanket to cover themselves.

What about the pets

The night didn’t stop there. By midnight, we had our second group of people, and we did the same thing, but his time they were bringing pets. Pets! We were prepared to shelter families in the gym but what were we going to do with pets? We had dogs of all sizes, cats, and birds. After thinking how we could accommodate them, we decided to open one of our classrooms and have them all there. The smell was impressive, but all the owners worked together to make sure that they were fed, and they could get along while they were there.

Day after day, dump trucks continued coming until we had over two hundred people in our gym. My wife and I were exhausted and finally, on the fifth day of being there day and night, some of our employees were able to make it to the center and relieve us. We were finally able to go home, take a bath and rest a little bit.

Community come together

The families we served were so grateful of the love and care The Salvation Army provided. Restaurants started to send us meals. Families were eating well, the kids were having fun in our game room, and the adults were able to rest and get strength for what was ahead. Finally, things started to calm down and the families, one by one, left our gym. They all said they felt our love towards them and we said our final good bye. Our work was not done yet.

The very next day, we filled our mobile kitchen with food and drinks and went out to serve our community. The City had 2,000 volunteers assisting with relief efforts and they asked The Salvation Army if we could feed them. For the next three consecutive days, we served a total of 6,000 meals from three mobile kitchens. After two weeks of going out into the Pasadena community to serve them nonstop, the city was doing fine in reestablishing and helping residents get back to their normal lives. Finally, after more than two weeks, my wife and I reunited once again with our children.

Looking back

A month before Hurricane Harvey, my wife and I had just been commissioned as Officers (pastors) with The Salvation Army. We were recent arrivals to The Salvation Army Pasadena Corps Community Center, having come from Atlanta, Georgia where you receive your officer training, and were getting familiar with this new town and our new appointment.

Looking back today and reflecting on all we were able to do for our neighbors, I feel blessed and honored that I was able do this with my family.

We learned that you don’t have to have much to help others. All you need is the heart, the willingness to help those in need and be ready to take action. After all, this is why we joined The Salvation Army. This is why we serve in this community. My family got stronger going through this experience. My children learned about sacrifice for the good of others. The community of Pasadena learned that we can overcome anything if we act together towards the same goal.

We feel blessed to have been here to share our love and care with our neighbors when they needed it most. Yes, we were tired and exhausted, but we would do it all over again. In this journey, we met wonderful people. We pray for all who were affected by Harvey and we know that God is taking care of them every day.


About the Author

Lieutenant Luis Villanueva is currently serving as the Corps Officer of our Pasadena Corps Community Center. Both he and his wife Lt. Marianne Villanueva oversee The Salvation Army programs and services offered in Pasadena. Pasadena is their first appointment as officers, having been commissioned in June 2017.

Originally from Chile, Lts. Luis and Marianne Villanueva have been married since 2008 and are the proud parents of Rebecca, 10, and Lemuel, 4.

HURRICANE HARVEY – Witnessing My Son’s Transformation from Child to Man during Harvey

Hurricane Harvey One-Year Reflection

The news had been very clear that Hurricane Harvey would be a major rain event in the Houston area.

Everything had been secured as best it could around the house. As the father and protector of the house I closely watched the water level around our house. I was scared but I had to be brave for the family. I watched the water levels rise and fall through the night.

Called into Action

Early the next morning, my oldest son, Christian purposely came down the stairs and said, “Dad there are people stranded in their houses a mile from here and begging for help! We must do something!”

My son and I took his boat and rescued 40 people and 10 dogs that day.

As I reflect on Harvey a year later, I am forever changed in the way I view my son.

Maturity in the face of Adversity

Christian has always been an energetic kid with a great heart, but he went from a child to a man during Hurricane Harvey for several reasons.

First, he showed maturity in his motivation to help those in need, despite the danger. He initiated the action that lead to saving lives. He told his scared father, “We must do something!”

Next, he showed maturity in his focused attention in getting to the people in immediate danger. I must admit I was scared to death as we launched his boat in the middle of the street. If my son was scared I never saw it on his face. He navigated the boat and communicated with the other first responders as we rescued family after family. It was exhausting, but he didn’t let fatigue cloud his judgment or his relentless pursuit of those waiting to be rescued.

Lastly, he showed maturity in his Christ-like compassion for the survivors once they got in the boat. “It will be alright.” “We are going to get you to dry land.” These were just two of the comments he made. When he pulled the boat up to people’s houses, you could see the look of utter desperation in their faces. When they got into the boat, the fear melted away. This transformation was in large part to the way Christian met them with confidence and compassion.

A True Hero

Christian will always be my son and I will always be his dad. What changed that day was Christian went from being my little boy to a man of God.

God bless you son for stepping up and being a true hero!

About the Author

Captain Jay Ward has been recognized as a “Harvey Hero” by the Houston Chronicle and Shell, the energy and petrochemical company.

Captain Jay Ward is currently serving as the Corps Officer of our Northwest Corps Community Center. Before this appointment, he was the Director of the Adult Rehabilitation Center and Family Stores here in Houston. Captain Ward has been with The Salvation Army since 1997 and served in Greenville, Mississippi; Montgomery, Alabama; Odessa, Texas; and Miami, Florida.

Captain Ward is the proud father of four children ages 22, 19, 17 and 9.

How Upward Bound Impacted My Life

I was born in Houston but when I was 11 months old my mother sent me to West Africa to live with my grandmother. I come from a royal family in a village in Ghana and she wanted me to learn the culture and the language. However, due to my grandmother’s failing health and her wish that I get a better education in America, I returned in 2015, right in the middle of the school year.

I was enrolled in Sharpstown High School and knew very little about the American education system. I will be forever thankful that the Lord led me to the College Career Center that day. That is when I met the advisor of The Salvation Army’s Upward Bound program. I still don’t know what the advisor saw in me but I’m glad she approached me and recruited me. At first, I was reluctant to join but, after much deliberation, I submitted my application and got accepted.

My Experience in Upward Bound

The Upward Bound program opened a whole new chapter in my life! It got me out of my comfort zone. I used to be shy and afraid to speak in public because I thought people would make fun of my thick African accent, and sometimes I stuttered. Upward Bound helped me gain confidence and get comfortable speaking in public, since we had to participate in group discussions all the time.

Thanks to their support, I not only did well in school but also became the secretary and then the interim vice president of Upward Bound. I even had the pleasure of serving as host during Upward Bound’s 2017 End-of-Year Banquet. That’s how far I have come along! A few years back I was scared to walk through a crowd and now I can talk in front of a large audience.

College Bound

Upward Bound also helped me make one of the biggest decisions in my life: college. I knew I wanted to enroll in a four-year university but the question was what college and what would I major in?

Upward Bound took us on visits to several college campuses like Prairie View A&M, Clark Atlanta University, Baylor, University of Houston, Florida State University, and many more. Thanks to these visits, it broadened my college options and encouraged me find the one that was right for me. That’s why I decided to continue my education at the illustrious Prairie View A&M, where I will be double majoring in Education and Mass Media Arts. I have decided to pursue a career in education because I want to positively impact the lives of other students just like my teachers and advisors did me.

Bound for Success

Thanks to Upward Bound and all the teachers who supported me, I had a lot of success in high school. I served as the Senior Class President, I was a Student Council Representative, I was the Apollo News Director, I was the yearbook’s Editor-in-Chief. These are just a few of the leadership positions I filled. I can boldly and confidently say that Upward Bound played a huge role in my life. Thanks to my involvement, I have achieved all I have. Now that I’ve graduated from high school and I am getting ready to head off to college, I look back and see how far I’ve come along.

I entered the Upward Bound program timid, reserved and concealed; I leave confident, strong and empowered. I entered as a boy who didn’t know what to do with his life; I leave as a young man who knows his worth and knows never to give up. Today, I understand the power of self-confidence and am forever grateful that they pushed me to achieve more than I ever thought I could. They have made me a better person and thanks to them I know I am ready and prepared to take on this next chapter of my life. I highly encourage everyone to join this program because I know that the amazing staff will make a difference in their life too.

To learn more about The Salvation Army’s Upward Bound Math Science Program, click here.

About the Author

Jojo Mill-Graves was born in Houston, Texas but was raised in Ghana, West Africa. He returned to the states in 2015 to finish his secondary education. Jojo was a member of The Salvation Army’s Upward Bound college preparatory program for 3 years at Sharpstown High School, where he served as Secretary and Interim Vice President. He graduated from Sharpstown in 2018 with two endorsements (areas of focus) in Business/Industry and Multidisciplinary. He also served as the Senior Class President and is currently serving as Sharpstown Class of 2018 Alumni President. Jojo will be continuing his education at Prairie View A&M University and is pursuing a double major in Education and Mass Media Arts.