Sticking together to get work done

Published 7:02 pm Friday, February 16, 2018


There was something grand in Janie Johnson holding the 2018 Community Builders service award, presented by the Port Arthur Cosmopolitan Mason Lodge 872.

Johnson, executive director of the United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County, received the prestigious award, presented since 1991, before the Port Arthur Rotary Club where she’d previously served as president. That was nice because she was a popular winner, someone whose successes at Rotary were recollected alongside her successes with United Way.

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She received the award in the presence of two previous winners, Jeff Hayes and Aletha Kirkwood, at Thursday’s Rotary meeting. That, too, was nice.

What made the award extra special, though, was that Johnson was lauded for her organization’s brave and erstwhile efforts on behalf of others in the wake of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey. Despite United Way’s own hardships, its small staff and dedicated member agencies pressed ahead to serve victims of the storm before they served themselves.

Johnson’s story was reflected around the county and many times over. The United Way office at 7980 Anchor Drive was hit high and low: The roof was damaged, causing damage in the attic where many records were stored, and it was damaged by flooding, destroying most everything from waist down in the office.

How many times have we heard those stories? They resound around every corner of this community.

And how many times have we heard the story continue in this way? United Way staff found temporary lodging outside their office building, squeezed themselves into less than 400 square feet, and went about the business of helping others.

That meant running down more than 20 member agencies to check on their status. That meant contacting fellow United Way offices in a national network to seek assistance for their affected community. That meant pressing ahead with a United Way campaign to keep funds flowing.

Success might be measured in the 150,000 pounds of supplies that flowed into this community. It might be measured in the numbers of people fed, clothed and equipped so they could sustain themselves and go back to work.

It might be measured in the Halloween dinner where beleaguered families, dislocated by the storm, shared a rare meal together, and watched their children collect candy, just like other children.

Or it might be viewed in ways immeasurable, such as by the sure knowledge that, pressed to their limits for energy and resources, facing nature’s fury and worst work, the United Way and others did their best to serve their fellow human beings.

Janie Johnson likes that story. In accepting her award, she noted the “loving companionship of others” in facing the storm’s challenges.

“We all stick together and work together to get it done,” she said.

Well done.