East Harris County organization offers a helping hand, not handouts

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This was originally featured in the Houston Chronicle’s HouWeAre newsletter on race, culture and identity. You can register here.

The land that time forgot.

Or, at least, that’s what Harris County Constable Precinct 3 employee and East Harris County Empowerment Council volunteer Charlotte Jackson calls the unincorporated area she’s called home for 50 years.

Earlier this month, the “Queen of the East Side”, as her EHCEC colleagues call her, joined Andrea Shiloh, EHCEC’s Senior Strategic Partnerships and Government Relations Officer, to lead a tour of the region which includes the communities of Channelview, Crosby, Jacinto City, Galena Park, North Shore and Sheldon – communities whose municipal neglect can be seen in the dilapidated prefab homes nestled near industrial complexes, food deserts and landfills, and Harvey’s waterlines which are still evident on dozens of buildings.

Driving the twisty, pockmarked roads of the area, Jackson and Shiloh weave stories of struggle and success unique to the unincorporated areas of Harris County that are often left to fend for themselves.

But now they get a little more help.

The East Harris County Empowerment Council is the brainchild of Terence Narcisse who, at 18, had a legacy in mind and a change in his heart at a friend’s memorial service. What, he wondered, did he want to be remembered for? When he left, what did he want his community, family and friends to say about him?

Narcisse, originally from Crosby, knew the dead ends often encountered in unincorporated communities, where it was difficult to obtain resources or be recognized as anything other than a place to grow up and hang out – if you have any chance. So, in 2008, he gathered a group of friends and family under the moniker Barrett Station Council and began volunteering to help those around him who needed it most — mostly black, Hispanic and low-income people who used to be forgotten.

But if necessity is the mother of invention, then negligence can certainly breed ingenuity.

“(Narcisse) really leaned into where he came from,” says Shiloh, who started volunteering with EHCEC in 2018. “He wanted to change the narrative of what people wanted from these communities.

“And the expectations are certainly low.”

What the Empowerment Council became was forged in the wrath of Hurricane Harvey; the historic storm devastated much of Harris County, leaving communities on its eastern end cut off from emergency services and basic necessities. Schools were flooded; families lost everything in the muddy waters that seeped into homes, many of which had no disaster cover.

They couldn’t wait for someone to save them; they had to save themselves, recalls Shiloh.

Enter Narcisse, affectionately referred to as the “Mayor of Eastern Harris County,” who was working on his MBA at Houston Baptist University when Harvey changed everything — and offered new mission clarity. Awash with cries for help and acts of daily good-neighbourly heroism, he strove to connect the needy with necessities: where to deliver pallets of water; how to set up an emergency relief center for food and shelter; and when to fill the gaps for those unversed in stimulus policies.

Shiloh believes Narcissus was “really born for a moment like this; we all entered this veil with a destiny and not everyone reaches it”.

Today, the East Harris County Empowerment Council is a beacon in the communities it serves, from back-to-school supplies and immunization clinics to financial literacy and development, with the motto “a helping hand, not alms”, enabling people to move from seeking quick fixes and charitable aid to investing in transformative education.

“You’ve heard that you have to teach a man to fish”, adds Shiloh, “but (the EHCEC mission) tries to go further: we want to learn how to gut the fish, cook it and set up shop to sell fish.

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