Cecilia, 63, and Michael Alvarez, 58, of Bloomington, have never lived in a home with central air and heat – even before they came together to start their family of eight.

The couple has never enjoyed a yard with trees, either.

Rather, since 2017, when Hurricane Harvey blew through, they have lived in a trailer in Bloomington where water seeps in the front and back doors with every rainfall.

This year, the Alvarezes will celebrate Christmas in a new home in Hope Meadows, and their hurricane-ravaged trailer, which was deemed uninhabitable for anyone else, will be torn down.

Since the beginning of October, more than 40 Disaster Aid Ohio volunteers have completed various stages of a dozen houses in Hope Meadows, including laying foundations, erecting framing, putting on roofs, applying exterior siding and installing drywall, cabinetry and flooring.

“Bless these people, they are out here in the cold, out here in the rain, they are here every day working no matter what,” Cecilia Alvarez said as her voice filled with emotion. “All I ask is that God bless them, protect them and give them strength.”

The organization is building 30 houses in the subdivision, with the goal to move four of the 20 approved families into their new homes before Christmas.

Hope Meadows is a 40-house subdivision in Bloomington made possible through $4.6 million in donations raised by Victoria County Long-Term Recovery Group and $2 million in labor donated by Disaster Aid Ohio in partnership with Mennonite Disaster Service.

The Ohio volunteers set up their base at First Baptist Church in Bloomington, and new volunteers arrive to replace the existing ones every two to four weeks. A red brick house that came with the property also has housed project managers and drivers for the project.

Gid A. Yoder, 58, a member of the building board for Disaster Aid Ohio and job coordinator in Bloomington for two weeks, was part of the decision-making group that initially traveled to Bloomington to decide whether to commit to the project.

“On the way down, we thought this is way too far,” Yoder said. “There are closer places to help. We don’t think we’ll do this, but let’s at least take a look.”

Yoder and the other representatives from Ohio gathered around a table at the Sky Restaurant with County Commissioner Danny Garcia and representatives from the Rebuild Texas Fund and the Victoria County Long-Term Recovery Group. They looked at architectural drawings of the proposed layout for the neighborhood. Garcia pointed to the recovery efforts the Ohio volunteers already had conducted in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., as an example of what he and the others hoped the volunteers could do for Bloomington.

“We discussed it and felt it was a Godsend thing that we couldn’t walk away from,” Yoder said. “The way it was presented and the money all was in place, and we just felt that if we walked away and said we are not going to come, we would not be doing our duty. We just felt like God was telling us to do it. If you work for God, it should not be a burden for you.”

Disaster Aid Ohio was established in 2008 not only to help with disaster recovery efforts but also to provide opportunities for Amish youth to perform missionary work.

Of the 41 volunteers who worked during Yoder’s two-week commitment, 12 were girls who either maintained the base or helped construct houses on the job site. Among them were Heidi Yoder, 15, the youngest of Yoder’s seven children, and Bethany Kurtz, 16, his oldest grandchild. Cora Yoder, Yoder’s wife, managed the girls. Nineteen boys were on hand to help build the houses.

“Our goal wherever we are working is to minister to people and help people to God; that’s our mission,” Yoder said.

Skilled volunteer leaders guide the crews to perform their particular tasks, from erecting framing to painting drywall. Eight projects were happening simultaneously during Yoder’s rotation, and at least half of the volunteers had conducted the work previously.

Although building inspections are not conducted in Bloomington, Disaster Aid Ohio is building the houses in Hope Meadows to meet Mennonite Disaster Service codes, Yoder said. For example, the exterior walls are strapped together so high winds cannot lift the structures from their foundations.

“They are not elaborate, but they are nice homes,” Yoder said. “And they are very well built.”

The Mennonite Disaster Service floor plans include two-bedroom, one-bath and three-bedroom, two-bath versions.

Twenty houses remain available through an application process.

With other members of Cornerstone Apostolic Church, the Alvarezes prepared chicken and beef tacos, rice and beans for one group of Ohio volunteers. They hope to continue providing the volunteer groups with a traditional Mexican meal during their time in Bloomington.

While the only difficulty associated with feeding the volunteers is coordinating schedules, navigating the complex disaster aid application process was challenging for the Alvarezes.

Lutheran Social Services helped them from the beginning. The Alvarezes were denied aid twice by two organizations before Hope Meadows became an option. In April, they submitted their application, and their approval came in September.

“When we were approved for Hope Meadows, I was so excited that I was crying,” Alvarez said.

The Rebuild Texas Fund is providing financial resources for the materials for 20 of the houses being built by the Ohio volunteers, while Rio Texas UMCOR is covering materials for the other 10. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy will pay for materials for the remaining 10 houses, and Golden Crescent Habitat for Humanity will provide the labor to build them.

The property can accommodate as many as 70 houses, so the Long-Term Recovery Group leadership hopes to secure additional funding to support more construction. The brick house that came with the subdivision property could eventually serve as a community center, though the idea is in the developmental stages.

When it was time for Cecilia Alvarez to select a location in the subdivision for her home, the decision was easy. The corner lot on Leonard Avenue had a tree growing in the front yard.

Alvarez has visited the job site every day since construction began. She writes passages in her journal about the continuous progress made on her “first real home.”

Long before they were approved for Hope Meadows, the Alvarez’s pastor offered them encouragement at church one Sunday.

“Sister Alvarez, when they build your home, I’m going to be in your living room sitting on your new couch drinking coffee,” she recalled him saying.

“Now we have to get a coffee maker,” she chuckled.

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Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate.

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