Nonprofit shares plans to revitalize the West Side. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Published 12:40 am Wednesday, April 5, 2023

A Houston-based non-profit that began as a response to natural disasters has redeveloped its purpose to also include man-made disasters, with a current focus on the west side of Port Arthur.

Van Shotwell, COO and co-founder of Shine on Humanity, said the group has been working for three years to create a chapter in Port Arthur while simultaneously meeting with city officials to help revitalize and develop the city’s west side.

Shine On Humanity was created by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

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“When Harvey happened, of course it was such a huge effect on everyone,” Shotwell said. “But what happened is, in the beginning you have all of the disaster relief organizations come in and they help everybody…at the very beginning.

“But then after FEMA and all of the organizations kind of leave, now our residents become more affected by the issues that happened after the fact. As in contractors who are from other states that come in and basically take from our citizens. That happens a lot globally.”

The nonprofit has worked to vet construction companies to reduce the risk to residents, but has also turned its attention to a broader spectrum following COVID-19.

“We are a young company just starting out, but our goal is huge,” Shotwell said. “We’ve kind of shifted a little bit on natural disasters because manmade disasters now are just as bad as they natural disasters that God has given to us in Mother Nature.”

The pandemic, she added, has affected everyone in ways that still aren’t fully understood.

Two years ago, Shine On Humanity began working in Port Arthur.

“We have made huge strides to bring the west side some much-needed love and some support,” the COO said. “Now through the Christmas meal giveaways — that’s kind of how we started getting here in Port Arthur. That was a task because of the pandemic also, and as we all know, everything has just changed so much over time with the economy.”

Last week Shine On Humanity presented the Port Arthur City Council with a plan to use affiliated businesses and volunteers to improve the west side.

“It’s not that Port Arthur isn’t already a wonderful place to live,” she said. “It is more that the once-thriving west side…what happened? What happened that the west side just kind of went downhill? So those residents need us to be able to come in and help them to revitalize that.”

The non-profit hopes to boost beautification and economic growth.

The four-step proposal consists of a feasibility study, clean up, redevelopment and community involvement.

Councilman Cal Jones said he was happy to hear about the proposed plan for the west side.

“It’s been a long time coming that somebody really cares about the west side and wants to move forward and revitalize the west side,” he said. “Because at one time, the west side is all we had. Only thing we didn’t have in the west side was the hospital and the jail, and the jail was close by. It makes me happy. The west side is almost a dying area. Used to be a fiery area. The people just cut out and left.”

Councilman Donald Frank suggested the nonprofit also meet with the pastors in the affected area, and expressed interest in bringing a grocer to the area.