The Road to Recovery: Finding Our Forgotten Ones

It’s late Monday afternoon on September 11.

Bishop James Dixon II, pastor of The Community of Faith Church, was running late – en route to the church from one meeting and headed to another meeting where he was planning to give members of the historic Forward Times newspaper a tour of the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Center he established at the church to help the community deal with the after effects of the worst natural disaster to impact the Greater Houston area in recent memory.

As Bishop Dixon and the members of the Forward Times walked in to the church to view the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Center, an African American woman was seen talking to one of the volunteers at the Center and began to cry uncontrollably – unable to get the words out of her mouth to express herself because of the emotion she had bottled up inside.

Naomi Rylander, 38, and her mother, Linda Thomas, 61, had just shown up to the north Houston church she had called home for several years before moving to the other side of town, looking for Bishop Dixon to provide some level of spiritual guidance and comfort in the midst of what she was going through.

As Bishop Dixon tried to get Naomi to explain her challenges, she could not seem to put the words together to fully express what was going on in her life because of the tears, but her mother, Linda, stepped in and began to tell Bishop Dixon how Hurricane Harvey caught Naomi by surprise and caused an unsuspecting whirlwind of financial and housing issues for her.

As Bishop Dixon moved the group into his church office, Naomi burst into even greater tears; overwhelmed because of the gravity and overwhelming feeling of what she was dealing with as a result of the after effects of Hurricane Harvey.

As Naomi struggled to tell Bishop Dixon and the group what her challenges were as a result of the storm, she received a call from her 11-year-old daughter, who had just finished the end of her first day of school since the unprecedented storm fell upon the Greater Houston area.

“Mommy’s okay…I promise.”

Those are the words of temporary comfort Naomi tried to provide to her daughter after struggling to gain her composure before answering her phone call.

With her hands shaking and her voice cracking, Naomi continued trying to assure her daughter all was okay, but her daughter persistently asked whether something was wrong or not.

Her daughter knew something wasn’t right. As a matter of fact…Naomi’s daughter was right!

Little did she know about the dire temporary financial situation her mother was facing; but just like most loving mothers, it was not something Naomi wanted her daughter to be worried about. Naomi was simply just trying to handle it.

However, as much as Naomi tried to convince her daughter that everything was okay, her daughter wasn’t buying it. She could sense something was seriously going on with her mom, and subsequently refused to back off the questioning or accept the narrative her mother was giving her. Unable to keep her composure any longer, Naomi began to sob and handed the phone to her mother, Linda, who was sitting right next to her.

Linda immediately got out of her seat to walk outside and calm her granddaughter down, because she was now on the other end of the line crying and worried.

“I have nothing,” said Naomi. “I never ask anyone for anything, but right now I have nothing. I applied for FEMA assistance, but I haven’t heard anything back from them. I spent all my money. I have all the receipts of what I spent. I just don’t know what I did to deserve this. Why is God doing this to me? I feel so hopeless. I’m honestly not looking for money, I just want to be able to clean my house and I want to get back to normal. I need counseling. I just want to make sure my baby is taken care of. I’m sorry to come to you like this.”

After calming herself down, Naomi finally gained her composure enough to share that she had lost power for a period of time during and after the storm. She also indicated that she had accumulated several bills that were due, and that she was unable to pay because she had spent all of her available money on food and essential items to survive during and after the storm.

Rumbling through the few bills and receipts she had gathered to present to Bishop Dixon, Naomi struggled to feel worthy of assistance.

“I feel like God has forgotten about me,” said Naomi. “Why is this happening to me?”

As nearly everyone in the room joined Naomi with tears in their eyes, everyone began to look around at each other, seeking to find the right words to comfort Naomi at that moment, while also realizing at that very moment that everyone knew they were in the right place at the right time.

“God has NOT forgotten you Naomi,” Bishop Dixon confidently assured Naomi. “As a matter of fact, God brought you here for this very moment, and He has all of us here right now to show you that He cares about you and your needs.”

Immediately, the other attendees in the room began to share words of encouragement with Naomi, to the point where Naomi began to crack a brief smile and began to feel as if there was a glimmer of hope for her after all in the midst of the storm’s recovery.

Naomi is a single mother, who has been on disability as a result of a serious back injury she suffered from a major car accident several years before. Prior to Hurricane Harvey, Naomi felt she had gotten the new start she was praying for. She had moved into her new place in southeast Houston, and was in the process of trying to find a part-time job to help with finances, and which could allow her to be back home in time to meet her daughter when she got home from school.

After gathering all the information and data, Bishop Dixon agreed to have the church take care of her immediate bills. The Forward Times also agreed to provide Naomi with resources to purchase some of her essential needs, as well as try to help her locate a part-time job opportunity.

Bishop Dixon also allowed Naomi and her mother, Linda, to get all of the essential items they could fill their car up with from the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Center. Although her reasoning for driving to the church was to bring her daughter to get help, Linda was experiencing her own issues. Linda had just lost her own job because she had an employer that refused to extend grace to her because of her inability to drive to work for a few days because of the flood waters. After being notified she was terminated, that same employer withheld her final check for days.

“You may have just found yourself a new member Bishop Dixon,” said Linda. “I appreciate you so much for what you’ve done for my daughter. She is my only daughter and I love her so much. As a mother, it pains me to see her go through this and not be able to help her the way I want to. I wasn’t concerned about me. The only thing I knew to do was to bring her to the only church I knew she loved, and that she attended on a regular basis before she moved to the other side of town. Thank you so much Bishop Dixon and all of you for being a blessing to my baby girl.”

As Naomi and her mother drove off from the church, with smiles on their faces after having had some of their immediate needs met, Bishop Dixon and the group rejoiced at their ability to help that family, but quickly sobered up to the reality that there are so many other individuals like Naomi in the Greater Houston area who are still in need, and who are struggling to get their lives back to normal like she is.

Karen Carter Richards, Forward Times Publisher/CEO; Bishop James Dixon II, Pastor of The Community of Faith Church; Naomi Rylander and mother, Linda Thomas; and Jeffrey L. Boney, Forward Times Associate Editor

Our communities have been hit hard.

People are not only seeking to physically recover from the storm. They are seeking to emotionally recover as well. Much of that starts with the much-needed assistance that these organizations, and their resources, can provide.

Millions and millions of dollars have been raised for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts by many entities, but is that money and are those resources really reaching the communities who need it most?

In speaking with many local churches, grassroots organizations and community leaders who are on the ground dealing directly with the communities who are in desperate need, they tell the Forward Times that they are running into roadblocks when it comes to receiving assistance and resources from many of the organizations and entities who have successfully collected millions of dollars; many of them being told that they are only providing assistance to areas that have diverse groups of people, while the public seeks answers about where that money is going and how those funds are being distributed.

The people who are hurting in our communities are simply looking for direct help – not red tape.

The Forward Times is interested in finding those forgotten individuals and connecting them with the resources that they desperately need. If you or anyone that you know is in need, we are asking that you e-mail events@forwardtimes.com and/or send a direct message to any of the Forward Times social media platforms (Instagram/Twitter/Facebook:@ForwardTimes). Please include your name, area of town, contact information and specific needs.

For more information about the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Center at The Community of Faith Church, please visit www.thecommunityoffaith.org.