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Jul 30, 2019

Building Community Resilience in Post-Harvey Texas

Photo courtesy of West Street Recovery
Photo courtesy of West Street Recovery

Harvey made landfall as a category four hurricane on August 25, 2017. 150 mph winds flattened homes and businesses along the once-booming tourist coastline, and heavy rains flooded south Texas an area the size of New Jersey.

This past April, I had the opportunity to meet with partners and community members that are still rebuilding their communities. I drove from Corpus Christi to Houston via Aransas, Rockport, Refugio and Victoria, learning about community-specific needs and how our partners are addressing them. 

Port Aransas and Rockport County were Hurricane Harvey’s ground zero. Around 40,000 structures were damaged or completely destroyed by Harvey’s winds and accompanying tornadoes, and businesses along once bustling streets remain boarded up as local neighbors work to repair or rebuild their own homes. Rockport Hands of Hope has addressed thousands of minor home repairs and remains one of the go-to sources for recovery needs. From plumbing and electrical work to wind resistant window coverings (up to category 4 strength), Rockport Hands of Hope is undaunted by the steady flow of requests for assistance. 

After leaving the coast I headed toward Victoria via Refugio County, a rural coastal community with a population of 7300. I visited with three families whose homes were severely damaged by Harvey, and remain so today -- caved ceilings, rampant mold growth, exposed electrical wires, a detached chimney. One family, the Castanedas, were featured in last year’s Victoria Advocate Hidden in Plain Sight series, which explores inequality – and how Harvey exposed the gap between the people who could afford to rebuild and everyone else

The Castaneda’s story isn’t unique to Refugio. In Houston I met with the Doucettes, a family whose home is being rebuilt by local West Street Recovery group. WSR was launched by a group of friends in the midst of Harvey during a spontaneous search and rescue (with an inflatable kayak) as the city streets turned to waterways. WSR works in areas with poverty levels above the national average and income levels below the Houston median. West Street Recovery is another partner that strives to “fill the gap” where insurance and federal recovery programs will not, and are prioritizing the unmet needs of low-income, socially vulnerable families. In addition to reconstruction, WSR provides workforce development training, community organizing and disaster preparedness programs for its community.

Before returning to DC, I met with partners approaching disaster recovery from a different angle. Attack Poverty has launched a pilot program that brings on a full-time mental health professional to assess the emotional well-being of survivors during case visits. Research demonstrates a major gap in providing mental health services to disaster victims, and Attack Poverty is incorporating it into their every-day programming to address this unspoken, yet critical need for dedicated support. 

Looking to the future, the Houston Arts Alliance has teamed up with an emergency response specialist to educate the arts and culture community of Houston on disaster response and preparedness. A $1.2 billion industry in Harris County alone, museums, theatres, and small-businesses were hit with more than $50 million in direct damages by Harvey. The artist community is self-proclaimed to have been unprepared, which is why HAA is building out programming and workshops that will inform resilience planning and meet the needs of a multicultural, multilingual community. 

By the end of my visit, I recognize a few common threads hold true: Harvey continues to disproportionately affect low-income, marginalized and otherwise vulnerable communities; there is a major gap in providing mental health support for survivors; and, Texans are [always] thinking about the next storm. We’re proud to have partners who are still going strong two years later, undeterred by the infinite tasks that lie ahead; and we’re grateful to have the means to provide support to those advocating for improved systems and infrastructure that will prepare communities for the next storm. 

Other organizations we support include: 

  • Harvey Home Connect 
  • Victoria County Long Term Recovery Group
  • Urban Harvest
  • Coalition for Environmental Equity and Resilience
  • Houston Advanced Research Center
  • Bayou City Waterkeepers

Looking to the year ahead, GlobalGiving will continue to support grassroots, locally-led groups that are leading long-term Harvey recovery efforts and incorporating themes of disaster preparedness and resilience into their work. From food security projects to workforce development, regional climate research and nature-based resilience programming, GlobalGiving will invest in organizations that invest in the people they serve.

Photo courtesy of West Street Recovery
Photo courtesy of West Street Recovery
Photo courtesy of West Street Recovery
Photo courtesy of West Street Recovery
Photo courtesy of Rockport Hands of Hope
Photo courtesy of Rockport Hands of Hope
Jul 26, 2019

Hello (Hujambo) from Toronto, Canada!

Happy summer!

I am officially home after an outstanding three months in the field in Kenya...

Thanks to your support I was able to provide personalized consultations to thirty-five Kenyan nonprofit partners in thirteen different counties across Kenya, discussing how to leverage GlobalGiving’s leading platform to build fundraising capacity, strengthen organizational strategies, attract more donors, and accelerate impact through our online learning tools.

Our nonprofit partners on the ground are tackling a plethora of challenges across sectors in Kenya. From interacting with the world’s last two northern white rhinos on Ol Pejeta’s Conservancy, to assisting Step Up 4 Autism with their occupational therapy sessions, to listening to music produced by Turning Tables’ youth beneficiaries from the slums - every visit left me feeling inspired, educated, and driven to continue my work in the social impact sphere. 

In addition to site visits, I was additionally able to facilitate six online fundraising workshops across the country, educating and building relationships with 170 prospective nonprofit partners.

I created a short video to summarize my time in the field, if you’d like to watch it click here

Last week I presented my insights to the GlobalGiving U.S. HQ team, sharing country sector trends, partner challenges, and recommendations on how to enhance our support of our Kenyan partners and advance the social impact sector on both a national and global scale. 

Based on the feedback we’ve received from those nonprofit partners I visited, time was very well spent! We’ve seen partners have increases in their donation activity, add new projects to our platform, and restrategize around their approach to management and fundraising.

Tremendous thanks again, without your support none of this would’ve been possible! 


I am off to Los Angeles this fall to complete my Masters in Social Entrepreneurship at USC Marshall School of Business. If you’d like to learn more about the 35 organizations I visited, my time in the field, or otherwise keep in touch, please feel free to reach out to my personal email:

Best wishes,


Jul 24, 2019

Three Tough United States Island Communities

Photo from Donna Callejon
Photo from Donna Callejon

The resilient and proud residents of the US Virgin Islands continue to rebuild nearly two years after two devastating back to back hurricanes in the fall of 2017.  On September 20th, Hurricane Maria charged over St. Croix, less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma took its toll on St. Thomas and St. John. The funds you provided have assisted in rebuilding homes and businesses, providing psychosocial support, re-establishing health and wellness facilities, have supported community- and youth-led efforts to improve marine resilience, and more.  


For nine days in June, I had the chance to spend time on these three beautiful islands, each of which is slowly recovering, physically and emotionally. Below I’ll highlight each island, hoping to share some insights into these three unique and special communities.


The southernmost USVI, St. Croix, is often first to be struck during hurricane season.  Even without the devastation caused by 180 MPH winds and landslides, the social sector on this oasis has a lot of work to do. St. Croix has a long history as a trading center (remember, Alexander Hamilton came to NY from St. Croix). It was offered up by the territorial government as a place to locate manufacturing plants. For years, an oil refinery and aluminum plant contaminated the ocean, groundwater, and air, eroding mangrove estuaries and choking agriculture as a viable business for locals. Currently two rum distilleries (in full disclosure, one owned by GlobalGiving’s partner Beam-Suntory) are in full operation, working with the community to reduce their environmental impact.


Those trends are beginning to reverse themselves due to leaders like Sommer Sibiliy-Brown of VI Good Food Coalition. VIGFC is working with farmers to build their skills and knowledge of sustainable farming techniques, providing much-needed equipment, and helping to create viable businesses. We visited Sejah Farm, and had the chance to hear directly from Dale and Yvette Brown about the impact of climate change and storms on their farms.  They shared with us their tireless work spent on rebuilding and helping others do so as well (we also sampled the freshest, spiciest arugula you’d ever hope to taste). Three days later, President and Secretary Clinton visited with Sommer and the St. Croix Foundation team to see the first of a dozen “Farm Tiendas,” or portable “farm stands” that are being constructed.  These market stands will provide an outlet for farmers to distribute fresh produce (and more) to people across the island.


From St. Croix I traveled to the Clinton Global Initiative Action Network gathering on St. Thomas.  This convening boasted nearly 500 disaster recovery and resilience practitioners. Thanks to your support, GlobalGiving was proud to join representatives of the three Long Term Recovery Groups, who will be fiscally sponsored by the St. Croix Foundation, to make a commitment to provide $250,000 in funding so that these groups can reach more families currently waiting for assistance.


On St. Thomas alone, there are more than 5,000 people waiting to have a case worker assigned to help them navigate rebuilding their homes and livelihoods, to access counseling or job training, and to work as their advocates with public and private insurance and rebuilding agencies. Imani Daniel, Executive Director of the St. Thomas Recovery Team, has been at the forefront of the effort to help the most vulnerable people in her community after hurricanes Irma and Maria. “GlobalGiving’s support enables us to say ‘yes, we can help’ to our neighbors who’ve heard ‘no’ far too many times. GlobalGiving’s approach is worth investing in; it should be considered the model for the future of disaster recovery collaboration.” said Daniel.


Once the CGI summit concluded, I was ready to take the short ferry to St. John, a place I visited as a tourist nearly a decade ago.  Arriving into the bustling Cruz Bay dock at sunset, I was reminded why it has become home to so many mainlanders attracted by the island vibe, vibrant local culture and nearly 15,000 acres of national park.  


St. John has only a fraction of the population compared to its sister islands, but suffered the same crippling blow in 2017.  Power was nearly non-existent for months. Fishermen struggled to regain livelihoods as their boats were smashed to pieces by the category five winds of Hurricane Irma. Hundreds of homes were damaged. Curvy, hillly roadways were blocked by trees and wires, making cross-island travel challenging.


On St. John I met with all of the primary leaders of the Resilient Housing Initiative - The St. John Community Foundation, St. John Angels Long Term Recovery Group, Love City Strong, and All Hands and Hearts.  After a long day volunteering with All Hands and Hearts, I spent the following day visiting with long time, local homeowners still coping with the aftermath of the storm (19 months later!) and hoping that their family homes will soon be habitable again. 


One example was Carmen, whose father built the home in which she raised her four daughters.  Due to a variety of technicalities, Carmen had been waiting for her roof to be replaced for nearly 20 months.  The day I visited, the crew from Love City Strong was there, having been called into action by a Long Term Recovery Group case worker. Examples like this one demonstrate the power donors like you can play in improving the lives of others.


We will continue to bring you stories of resilience and strength from these beautiful, special United States islands.


Donna + the GlobalGiving Team

Photo of Sejah Farms owner from Donna Callejon
Photo of Sejah Farms owner from Donna Callejon
Photo with Secretary Clinton from CGI
Photo with Secretary Clinton from CGI
Photo of Donna volunteering alongside AHAH
Photo of Donna volunteering alongside AHAH
Photo of SJCF assisting a homeowner from Donna
Photo of SJCF assisting a homeowner from Donna
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