Henry Ware said it was the power of prayer that has helped his family over the past three years.
The Port Arthur man and his family have lived through an incredible series of tragedies since Hurricane Harvey destroyed their home in 2017.
But the tears they shed in the door of their home on Thursday were pure joy when American Air Systems showed up and surprised them with a brand new heating and air conditioning system.
It was something they went without for the better part of four years.
“(Our son) just turned 10,” he said as he stood in front of a truck with his new HVAC unit. He tries to be strong. But his hair is short, so you can see the back of his neck sweating. “
The Ware’s have lived in their house with only one small window in the living room. But it was a living room they only had a few years ago, when the Southeast Texas Emergency Relief Fund stepped in to help with repairs.
“They’ve been through a nightmare,” said Executive Director Ann O’Bannion, who nominated them for the American Air Systems giveaway. “They are the most cheerful, grateful and very grateful. You just want to give them the moon. “
Lee Potter, president of American Air Systems, said this is the third time they have assigned a new unit to a family in Southeast Texas. The Wares were one of 117 families nominated and chosen by an independent committee of community leaders who handled the contest applications.
“Southeast Texas has been great for us,” Lee said just before the unveiling, which included members of DIE, city and county leaders, and a host of other organizations. “And we decided it was time to give back.”
Before arriving at the house, he was unaware of the family’s story.
“I haven’t read any nominations yet,” said Lee. “Because it’s so cool to do, I’ll be too emotional when I know it.”
Go through fire and water
Before joining Harvey, Henry worked at a refinery and Susie as a nurse. They had three small children, the youngest of whom was just 9 months old when the storm dropped record rains in Southeast Texas.
They had flood insurance and hired a contractor to make repairs, but fell victim to contractor fraud.
“The stone wasn’t damaged, but out of meanness the contractor took all the stone off the wall,” said Ann.
The house was stripped of everything, as the contractor knew the family would have to take weekly trips to the MD Anderson Hospital in Houston.
Susie had just been diagnosed with cancer and was no longer able to work.
With no real home, the family lived near the hospital in their Chrysler 300 for a year – the parents slept in the front two seats and the children slept in the back seat.
But that left Henry with a foot infection that prevented him from walking, let alone work, and he too became unemployed.
Eventually they were able to get a FEMA unit to live in, but the day FEMA took it back, the trailer hit a wire and set the house on fire. However, the house was not destroyed.
They moved back in, but mold in the house was causing complications in Susie’s recovery. She lived with snakes that helped drain her lungs.
Everything had to be removed and replaced.
“She got depressed and felt it was her fault,” said Henry. “She felt everything was because of the cancer.”
Finding hope and help
For years, the Wares asked for help from any organization they could.
And through that process they found SETRF. County Commissioner Vernon Pierce, who was present at the surprise HVAC system, was the director of the organization at the time.
“Vernon and the others, when we met him, they were the only ones telling the truth,” Henry said. “There were many groups who said it, but they were the only ones who did. And it was surprising, but a great surprise. “
Ann said the organization was able to finance labor, but not supplies. These were donated by Habitat for Humanity.
In the beginning they only had enough to build a living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. But when more money became available, they continued to work from home.
They were able to get sidetracked to replace the stone, and over spring break, a group of young people volunteered to paint it.
“We’ve been putting this house together little by little,” she said.
At Christmas, a church group offered to sponsor the family.
“I called and he said, ‘Oh, that’s great because Susie has to sew holes in the children’s underwear,’ Ann recalled.
The unfinished floors also left holes in their socks.
When Ann saw the American Air Systems game, it didn’t take a second to think about it.
“I thought,” Oh, this is perfect, “she said.” I have nothing to lose by submitting it. “
A central unit was the last thing they needed. But the house had to be provided with the necessary wiring and piping for the system.
But again, SETRF found the money to make the additions.
“She’ll make a full recovery,” said Ann.
A wonderful revelation
Before arriving at the Ware’s home, American Air System employees, committee members, SETRF representatives, and others gathered at the Market Basket on Old Port Arthur Road so they could all arrive together.
“Thank you for taking the time to celebrate changing family life,” Lee told the crowd. ‘This is what it’s about. We are lucky – with my company and the crew we have and the work we do and the sacrifices they make – that we get to do this. “
He led the group in prayer before leading the caravan to the house.
Two young girls watched through the blinds as people began to park vehicles and fill their yard.
Lee knocked, greeted the family, and informed them that they had won a brand new air conditioning system.
Susie started to cry, and Henry just kept smiling as he simply repeated, “Wow. Oh wow. Oh man, ”the group thanked.
“We’ve heard it’s been a fight,” Lee told them. ‘It is time it wasn’t going to be a struggle. It’s time for you to come home and enjoy the comforts of Southeast Texas. It’s our honor to be able to give this to you for the next week or so to walk in and say, “Oh, it’s cold in here.” ”