STEPHEN HEMELT — Success, potential highlighted in Greater Port Arthur The Magazine

Published 12:25 am Saturday, October 3, 2020

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Some might have said, “remember when” or “it will never be the same.”

I bet plenty of people just called it an eyesore.

Yet, Warren Pena and Joe Aref saw an opportunity. They are the gentlemen who are repurposing 50,000 square feet of defunct former grocery store space at 1700 Jefferson Drive into a new community commercial and retail hub.

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The former Market Basket site will soon house La Vaquita and so much more.

“Getting to this point in my life was difficult, but hard work pays off,” Pena recently said. “I was raised with a very hard work ethic. Many nights stay working till 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. to get jobs done, a report done, a presentation finished. Quitting is not in my options. When one investment fails, another will compensate for that loss.”

Pena gave that quote during an interview with veteran reporter and Port Arthur native Mary Meaux.

Meaux’s feature spotlighting the redevelopment effort of Pena and Aref is the cover story of the current Greater Port Arthur The Magazine.

Complimentary copies of the October special edition are available at the Port Arthur Newsmedia office, 2349 Memorial Blvd. in Port Arthur, or online at Simply click on the “Special Sections” tab in the black row at the top of the page.

The stories beyond the cover are just as engaging.

Taylor Getwood drew the support of many community leaders, including Jefferson County Precinct 2 Constable Christopher Bates, left in background, and Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie, right in foreground, for the #WeShallBreathe rally on June 3. (I.C. Murrell/The News)

Editor I.C. Murrell profiles Taylor Getwood, who is proving to be a positive and energetic voice for change in the community.

Getwood, a 2020 member of Woodrow Wilson Early College High School’s first graduating class, has organized a rally speaking out against systemic racism and police brutality and spearheaded an online candidate forum for those seeking representation on the Port Arthur City Council.

“I don’t think anyone in my age group and age range experienced a year like 2020,” Getwood says in the article. “My generation is experiencing something we learned in class and in Black history documentaries. To have it is like a taste of reality. We always sit up and say what we would have done if we were in the position, but now we’re in that position.”

Southeast Texas Scuba owners Tommy Smith, left, and Dustin Ainsworth, right, pose for a photo. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

Another feature highlights the “depths” of friendship and business partnership shared by Dustin Ainsworth and Tommy Smith.

Separated by more than 20 years in age, the duo operates Groves-based Southeast Texas Scuba.

The dive masters are owners of what they say is the Golden Triangle’s only scuba diving facility.

They started with a handful of scuba equipment items and a couple of tanks and now just finished their fourth summer.

“People find the sport and it’s like an out for them,” Ainsworth said. “It gives them a sort of what we call ‘bubble therapy.’ There’s a lot going on in everyone’s life, anxiety and hardships, it all affects us but when you get down there and relax, and it’s so beautiful, it’s like therapy.”

Port Arthur native Dr. Lona Alexander-Mitchell has been named Title V project director at Lamar State College Port Arthur. (Courtesy photo)

I was lucky enough to interview Lona Alexander-Mitchell for a column I wrote in the edition.

The Port Arthur product recently returned to the Golden Triangle to lead an exciting effort at Lamar State College Port Arthur. She is helping a segment of our community with possibly the most potential for impact.

As the new Title V Project Director, Dr. Alexander-Mitchell is in charge of Camino a la Excelencia (Pathway to Success), an outreach to Hispanic students as well as first-generation students.

“You can’t imagine anything but something good coming out of the growth and opportunities that the college is offering,” she told me. “We’re trying to do anything to make people feel welcome and build relationships. That’s what we’re trying to do. I’ve been reaching out to a few people to say hey, we have this going on here.”

That’s only snippets of half the stories featured in this edition.

Please pick up a copy and enjoy so much more. Give us a call at 409-721-2400 if you need help getting a copy or two.

Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia. He can be reached at or 409-721-2445.