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Churches lend listening ear

Members of Houston's First Presbyterian Church were giving directions and handing out fliers to people at a city light-rail METRO stop.

BY HEATHER MOYER | HOUSTON, Texas | September 13, 2005


"One woman said she appreciated that we just talked to her and acknowledged that she's a human."

—Margarito Perez


On a cloudy Saturday morning, members of Houston's First Presbyterian Church were giving directions and handing out fliers to people at a city light-rail METRO stop.

The members were taking part in a volunteer opportunity the church created as yet another way to serve the many Hurricane Katrina survivors in the city.

"Our church is right on the (METRO) line, and we wanted to help," said Margarito Perez, organizer of the First Presbyterian Church volunteer crew that morning. "We called METRO and they wanted to get some information out about a new shuttle service they are offering to the survivors. So they said we can hand out fliers about that and about our own church."

At the METRO stop for the Astrodome, Perez and fellow volunteer Kimberly Hall spoke with survivors to give them directions and listen when needed.

"Just asking them their names really opens some of them up," said Hall. "They want to talk."

Perez said others really appreciate someone just talking to them "like a person, and not a robot." He said the longer he stood outside learning about what all the survivors were having to deal with, the more he could understand how exhausted they were. He said the amount of questions the survivors have to ask everyone during the recovery is tiring.

"One woman said she appreciated that we just talked to her and acknowledged that she's a human," explained Perez. "The problem is they've already been bent and broken and slammed. You can see the frustration in their face, they want to be acknowledged. These are humans, not numbers or stats. They are children of God."

And that kindness is just one aspect of First Presbyterian Church's response to Hurricane Katrina. Amy Ulrickson, the church's associate director of missions, said the church has already put several families up in church-owned apartments in the city. "We're trying to help relocate families," she said. "We're blessed to have church-owned apartments, so we want to take families in and adopt them. We want to get them furniture, stock the fridge - those sorts of things."

She added that the church is gathering donations of money and supplies for the survivors living in the shelters around Houston as well. Ulrickson said the METRO volunteering is just her church's way of trying not to duplicate other relief work being offered in the city. "We're trying not to reinvent the wheel." Church members are also making sure the METRO and church fliers are being distributed to local hotels where survivors are staying as well.

The overall response from the city and its faith community is something with which Ulrickson is impressed. She never knew the city could be so giving and is amazed by how much love and compassion is being shown by everyone.

As for the METRO program, Ulrickson said she hoped the days the church members spent volunteering along the light rail line would let the survivors know that the church cares about them. And for those who went to church back in New Orleans or are looking for a new church community in Houston, "We want them to know they're welcome at our church, that they can be part of our community," she said.

Back down at the Astrodome's METRO stop, volunteer Sandy Frick agreed. "These are our neighbors."


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