Hilton Kelley

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Since the discovery of oil in 1901 Port Arthur, Texas has been a hub for the world’s largest oil refineries. Hilton Kelley, who grew up in Port Arthur, explained to the team how this dependency has been one of the major factors leading to the city’s current deep recession. He clarified how the temporary employment offered during refinery construction is NOT a sustainable job creation source. After construction the petro-chemical companies mostly hire experienced non-locals for the long term positions.

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Hilton hasn’t always been highlighting the industry’s impact on his hometown. After serving in the U.S. Navy and working in the acting industry Mr. Kelley found a new calling during a visit home.  He noticed how many of his friends from high school and different community members were dying of cancer and how they had contracted other respiratory illness. Residents were also moving away every year in search of better economic opportunity. He asked his friend who was working on ameliorating these problems. More needed to be done. It was then Community In-power and Development Association (CIDA) was founded in 2000 with the belief that chemical polluters should be held accountable for the chronic, systematic poisoning of low-income communities living along the “fence line” of their operations. The organization has had many victories since then. One major accomplishment includes accountability for the companies releasing toxic chemicals into the air and the enforcement of air permits. Another includes a fund by petro-chemical companies for local entrepreneurs to participate in the revival. These have been acknowledged by the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2011. It is granted to one environmental hero from each continent. The work of Goldman Prize recipients often focuses on protecting endangered ecosystems and species, combating destructive development projects, promoting sustainability, influencing environmental policies and striving for environmental justice.

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Mr. Kelley with President Obama

The team was lucky to be able to meet with Mr. Kelley. We learned a lot about Port Arthur and the refineries impacts on the communities that live in that city.

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-Omar Navarro

Beaumont: From Garden To Plate

Our arrival in Beaumont means an arrival at Unity Southwest Texas!
First we stopped at the Giving Field, a donation garden which supplies the food bank Some Other Place with fresh produce. It also acts as an education opportunity for the neighboring school.
Doing some serious weeding while watching intently for fire ants and the potential angry bee.
Doing some serious weeding while watching intently for fire ants and the potential angry bee.
Quid Pro Quo: I trade my labor for some quality time with your chickens.
Quid Pro Quo: I trade my labor for some quality time with your chickens.
Next volunteer opportunity: at Some Other Place. We helped serve almost 200 people food in one day. Here we're rockin' the hair nets.
Next volunteer opportunity: at Some Other Place. We helped serve almost 200 people food in one day. Here we’re rockin’ the hair nets.
Really rocking them.
Really rocking them.
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Afterward Sharon brought us to experience the fresh cuisine in Katherine and Company’s.
And at last a relaxing evening in the pool of Rev. Sondra and Susan, our gracious hosts.
And at last a relaxing evening in the pool of Rev. Sondra and Susan, our gracious hosts.

Kaela Bamberger

Unity

by May Armstrong

We stay at a new church almost every day. Every time that we pull into each new driveway my first thought is “Finally! Now time to get some food and rest, but this place was very different.
We arrived in Beaumont on June 20th. That day changed my life forever. As we pulled up to what I thought would be just another church, before my typical thought process kicked in, I read the sign labeling Unity Church. The sign read “Unity, a positive path towards spiritual learning.” I was shocked. “Thats different…” I thought. I was immediately interested and wanted to hear more about this place called Unity Church. I had never been so intrigued by a church before! Now, don’t get me wrong. I have LOVED every place that we have stayed, as well as their religious views. I find hope and inspiration in their beliefs, but its just that they are not my beliefs. I wasn’t sure what I believe. I still don’t, but this place got me so much closer.
We met several intriguing characters in Beaumont. Shannon (President of the board of Trustees for the church) taught me about Unity Church and what it stood for. First thing he said was that he doesn’t particularly like calling it a “church” because the word makes it sound exclusive. He said that he would rather call it a “house of worship” to express that all are included in its worship and activities. It is Christian based, but is inclusive to all denominations. They are very accepting. They even accept open gays with open arms! The more that I heard about it, the more interested that I became. Shannon admitted that he didn’t feel comfortable explaining all of Unity Church’s beliefs, so he opened me up to their literature room where I found myself indulging in my curiosity at any chance that I could, when we weren’t doing role work, work for stay, or volunteering.
The next day the team used our strategy “divide and conquer” to do both work for stay with Unity Church, and to work at a soup kitchen. I went to the soup kitchen with half of the team. The entire ride there we encountered a lot of confusion… The piece of paper with the name of the place and the address on it read “Some Other Place” and then an address that we followed. “Some Other Place? Is that the name of it? Or is that a joke? Did he just not know the name?” When we arrived we found that, no joke, the facility was in fact called Some Other Place. A funny man with a joyous laugh told us about the facility and explained its origin, “this place isn’t just a where we feed the homeless. We feed everybody. We’ve seen people come in here with suits, but we don’t turn them down. Anyone who wants a meal, we give it to them. The origin of the name for the place came from people who would go for churches for help. The churches would help the needy all that they could, but when they ran out of food or shelter they would tell the person ‘we can’t help you here. You will have to go to some other place’ so then the person would go to the next church and they would again say ‘we can’t help you here. You will have to go to some other place’ and so on and so on. When we founded the soup kitchen we wondered what to call it. But then we thought ‘well, if all the churches are sending the needy to Some Other Place, then we will call it Some Other Place!’ But food isn’t all that we do. We also give people clothes, and much more.” He went on to explain that they give people clothes four times a year (with the seasons). They also help with health care. This wonderful place gives people anything they need! They even have a center for homeless people to spend their time during the day when they cannot go anywhere else. I Love Beaumont! I carried a smile on my face with every bit of work that we did that day. I was honored to be working for such a progressive and selfless institution.
The following day we again used “divide and conquer” but this time I was on the work for stay team. At other churches that we have stayed at, our work for stay has consisted of cleaning up paint, moving boxes, moving costumes, helping with vacation bible school, and cleaning the facilities. At Unity Church, we were making a labyrinth!!! What could be more exciting!

First we dug out the diameter of the labyrinth several inches deep. Then we put the template in the dug out area and put bricks along the yellow lines. Finally we covered the black area in pebbles and Presto! Completed Labyrinth!

Some members of the team working on the Labyrinth along side some members of the church.

Finished!

I fell in love with this church more and more every day. Although we didn’t really get to spend a ton of time in Beaumont (we never spend much time anywhere) I learned so much and saw the most incredible things! Have you ever heard of a singing bowl!? We got to play with one that they use in their services. The Unity Church service was filled with spirit, singing, dancing, stories, and more. I had never felt so spiritually fulfilled as I did after that service. Afterwards, Michael helped me find a Unity Church in St. Petersburg that I, no doubt, plan on attending when I get back to school. I never thought that I would find a church that was right for me, but I think that I finally have.