Gexa Energy Learning Center

A labor of love.

It’s been a year since the launch of our Community Heroes grant program. And in that time, we’ve had the pleasure of supporting four and counting local organizations in their quest to empower and uplift the communities where they live and work.

For a deeper look into who these organizations are, this blog series will focus on the inspirational stories behind some of the 2017 and 2018 Gexa Community Heroes grant winners and their invaluable contributions in and around the Houston area. 

Enjoy the little things – it’s a saying we’ve all undoubtedly heard before. But how often do we actually take its meaning to heart? A family BBQ. Going on a run with a friend. Or enjoying an evening at the movies. These things might seem small, but that couldn’t be further from the reality. That’s because the value that’s derived from these experiences and relationships is part of who we are and how we approach the world. But for some people, these little moments are difficult to come by. Take, for example, those living with physical or intellectual disabilities. On a regular basis, social stigmas and economic barriers can make something as simple as getting a meal or finding a job far from reach. But in Houston, Building and Restoring Hope, a local non-profit, has set out to change that, offering individuals in the area the support and services they need to thrive.

Speaking to Jessica Somerville, the activities director at Building and Restoring Hope, the passion she has for her work is undeniable. For her, the organization is so much more than a resource center – it’s a true community. Somerville explains that the organization, founded by Karen Chatman in 2006, is, and has always been, dedicated to providing those with physical and intellectual disabilities the support they need to achieve the highest possible quality of life. And, as Somerville notes, this is not necessarily an easy task. In the face of daily obstacles, this particular population is often left behind, lacking the routine emotional, physical and social stimulation needed to play an active role in society. As a result, it’s not surprising that many of the adults Building and Restoring Hope serves are also homeless. For these individuals, their mental and physical disabilities are compounded by a lack of basic shelter and security, resulting in a situation that no one should ever have to endure.

To combat the overwhelming adversities confronting this at-risk population, Building and Restoring Hope needed to first create a physical space that could make up for an absence of community and safety. In their current location at the Cullen Adult Activity Center, Building and Restoring Hope hosts up to 85 people on any given day. Many of the individuals that frequent the organization come from nearby group homes and off the streets. A typical day starts with group exercise classes to promote long-term wellness and healthy habits. From there, the day’s activities can vary. Some individuals take advantage of outings, while others work with staff on personalized lesson plans, cooking classes and other skill-building activities. Building and Restoring Hope even helps connect individuals with outside resources, such as job placement programs and health care providers. Somerville says that ultimately, all these activities and services add up to a more independent and fulfilling way of life for every individual they serve.

Building and Restoring Hope received Gexa’s Community Heroes grant back in September of 2017. It was the organization’s founder who discovered the grant while on Facebook and immediately shared the link with Somerville. A few months after applying, Somerville received word that Building and Restoring Hope had won the $500 grant. With the additional funds in hand, the organization was able to replace their refrigerators – all of which were destroyed during Hurricane Harvey – and get back on their feet after the immense devastation.

What lies ahead for Building and Restoring Hope? Somerville mentions that she’d love to fundraise enough money to buy a third van for the organization, so they can increase the capacity of their outings and offer even more outside enrichment opportunities for those they serve. And with her unwavering dedication to Building and Restoring Hope and the individuals she works with every day, we have no doubt that aspiration will soon become a reality.

To learn more about Building and Restoring Hope and their work in the greater Houston area, visit www.buildingrestoringhope.org/home.aspx.