Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Those words are the heartbeat of the community of Hope City. In a time of crisis for their beloved city of Houston, the Hope City family immediately stepped into action and has spent every moment since Hurricane Harvey hit rescuing people and rebuilding their community.
Hope City is a nondenominational church uniting people from all walks of life and from across all areas of Houston. This multigenerational and multicultural group has come together with a common purpose: to love God, love people, and change the world. With over 6.8 million people in the greater Houston area, Hope City shows how the place they call home is truly diverse and unique, a genuine, cultural melting pot.
With a large communal body, Hope City relies on social media to relay important, urgent, and valuable information to anyone who needs it across multiple platforms. Their social media outreach reaches thousands daily, making it the perfect way to communicate with people in times of crisis. Pastor Jeremy Foster, Founder and Senior Pastor of Hope City, feels strongly about a well-developed marketing plan and outreach strategy. During Hurricane Harvey, he worked very closely with the communications department as they launched their #HopeCityHeroes campaign, highlighting the everyday volunteers of Hope City who began doing extraordinary things in the community.
Social Media Director, Carla Della Femina, spent the last year developing and fine-tuning the social media strategy, content, and outreach content for Hope City. When Hurricane Harvey began forming in the gulf, the communications department launched into action ensuring that a crisis communication plan was in place before power was lost, before people were displaced, and before homes were destroyed. “We took on a 24-hour news approach, constantly updating the community while engaging with Houstonians and people all across the U.S. who wanted to know what was happening here,” Ms. Della Femina said. “Social media took on its original goal again – to connect people all over the world.”
Before the storm hit, the social media team provided emergency hotline numbers, shelter information, and emergency resources that people could easily access in case they became stranded or lost power. During the storm, their live updates provided information to the Houston metroplex on how people in need could receive help and how other people could provide it.
“I’ve never seen a city unite with such strength and humility. Churches of different denominations, people of different ethnicities, and neighbors who’ve never even said ‘hi’ to one another before, all rallied together to help each other in this crisis,” Pastor Jeremy said. “History is being made right now and we get to write the story.”
From the moment that Harvey hit, Hope City took action. A Hope City Parking Team volunteer, Adam Rusk, and his group of friends utilized six airboats sponsored by Hope City to rescue 577 people in flooded areas. This team was able to rescue people who were confined to their homes because of physical, mental, or situational states. A Hope City team member saved eight people in an inner tube and another rescued 40 elderly people in his boat. During the rescue phase of Hurricane Harvey, the Hope City crews rescued over 1,000 people.
“Hope City went out in trucks, boats, kayaks, jet skis, and whatever else they could find with one purpose in mind – to save someone,” Pastor Jeremy said.
The Hope City family was featured on the BBC, CNN, and Good Morning America because of their heroic actions. They were able to partner with different churches and organizations, extending their ability to provide relief to even more people in Houston. Some members of their team partnered with an Army National Guard unit to rescue a man with cerebral palsy who was trapped in his bed surrounded by the floodwaters, which had risen to the top of his bed.
The team also rescued a 91-year-old woman in a wheelchair who was deaf and trapped in her home. She had been unable to notify anyone for help. “She couldn’t say thank you, but as the tears streamed down her face, she waved her hands and hugged their necks,” Pastor Jeremy said. “They got her to the airlift helicopter and to safety.” Hope City team members rescued so many people from daunting, life-threatening situations, providing hope in a hopeless situation and a sense of security even in horrendous times.
“We launched a Hope City Heroes campaign on our digital media cross-platform. We began telling the stories of ordinary people who began doing extraordinary things,” Ms. Della Femina said. “We also encouraged people to tell the world what was really happening here locally – how people started helping people they’d never met before and how this city was uniting like never before.”
The Hope City community is full of stories where ordinary people have become heroes because of their passion and willingness to put aside their own differences to rescue those with greater needs. According to Pastor Jeremy, during a crisis, everyone has to put logos and egos aside to realize we are better when we stand together.
“The unique thing for me to watch was how churches saved people, clothed them, fed them and housed them, regardless whether or not they believed in Jesus,” Pastor Jeremy said. “That’s truly what we are supposed to do as the church. We are supposed to help anyone and everyone that we can no matter what they believe.”
When the floodwaters died down and it became safe to enter homes, Hope City took action with the full force of their community. More than 2,000 members of their volunteer team served in 50 different shelters across Houston. At the same time, the Hope City team alone was able to complete 35 home restoration projects and assisted in many more through partnerships with local churches and organizations. Throughout the duration of the rescue and relief process, Hope City ran a 20,000-square-foot warehouse that served the community as a collection and distribution center.
Hope City also had a church-wide Serve Day where they partnered with several local churches, across various denominations, to help affected communities by providing supplies, clothes, and food. During Serve Day, they were able to help 91-year-old Papa Jim, a World War II veteran, who had lost his home of 21 years. The Hope City team came in, tore out all the sheetrock in his home and helped his family begin to pick up the broken pieces of their lives.
“I believe that by partnering with other local churches and non-profit organizations, we were able to make a difference together that we could’ve never made just standing alone,” Pastor Jeremy said.
Hope City is not letting the physical passing of the hurricane slow down their rebuilding and recovery process. While there is no longer an immediate threat from Mother Nature, it will take months and even years for Houston to stand as strong as it was prior to Hurricane Harvey. Hope City is charging full speed ahead and focusing on money, manpower, and materials – three key things needed to rebuild after a crisis.
“Our heartbeat is for this city, so any organization that you trust please give through it. Every dollar counts and [these organizations] are grateful to the state of Texas and everyone else who has reached out a helping hand in our time of need,” Pastor Jeremy said. Uniquely, 100 percent of all proceeds raised for flood relief at Hope City go directly to supporting victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Despite the astronomically damaging effects of Hurricane Harvey, the people of Houston have come together and united in strength and humility to help one another despite any differences they many have between them. While the recovery process will take time and dedication, Houston has already seen amazing efforts and with such dedication from volunteers, progress is being made every day.
“I’ve never been more proud of the city of Houston and the gulf South,” Pastor Jeremy said. “I’m so honored that we get to play a small part in helping change our part of the world.”