The Rio Grande Valley’s position on the eastern Mexican border makes it the primary crossing point for refugees and other immigrants from the south, who find this the nearest U.S. point of entry. Dealing with the new entrants, many of them children arriving alone, create special challenges for people who live in this area.
The coming cold months traditionally compound those challenges as many homeless people arrive from northern states to escape frigid temperatures that can be life-threatening to those who lack warm shelter.
Fortunately, local residents have stepped up to meet those challenges. One of them is Jack White, who retired earlier this year as executive director of Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville.
White’s tenure managing the shelter and soup kitchen was three years, but in that short time he took an establishment battling debt and neglect and built it into a community aid center that now is much better equipped to meet the needs of the Brownsville area’s most vulnerable residents, from the chronically homeless to those who suddenly find themselves in need of temporary assistance.
And White’s contributions couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Settlement House, located just a few blocks from the Gateway International Bridge and Brownsville’s multimodal bus terminal, became a primary location for helping the thousands of immigrants who arrived seeking a place to rebuild their lives after fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands.
In a July interview, White admitted that when he took the voluntary position of executive director, he had a lot to learn about running such a facility.
“I didn’t know what a grease trap was, not a damn clue,” he said.
However, he found many people willing to help, and proved to be a quick learner.
Despite a lack of experience in seeking grants and finding other forms of financial assistance, White was able to secure donations from organizations such as the United Way of Southern Cameron County and the Legacy Foundation, and move the facility toward solvency.
It’s an achievement that certainly is appreciated; there’s no telling what fate might have faced the many people who rely on Good Neighbor if the facility had been forced to close its doors.
That might be the most valuable asset we see in Jack White and others like him, such as Sister Norma Pimentel in McAllen, Bill Reagan in Harlingen and many others: the ability to inspire others to lend their efforts in the service of their community, and offer help when it’s needed.
Such talent is only partly the result of an ability to tell a compelling story; it is reinforced by the tireless work White and his cohorts perform, which further inspires and motivates others.
White leaves a legacy of dedication and performance that surely will remain an example for those who have taken the reins of Good Neighbor Settlement House, and those who have supported the facility and its mission over the years. As long as the need exists to render aid to those who need it, may that example inspire others to continue meeting that need.