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Former businessman leads charity to help Katy families

November 18, 2018

After Hurricane Harvey left people in the Katy area with homes damaged by floodwater and in need of help, a flood of volunteers came forward to assist, including Tom Pretti Jr.

Volunteers came from all walks of life. He’s spent a career in a suit and tie as a business consultant and was a graduate of the West Houston Leadership Institute Class of 2010. Pretti then served on the institute’s board of directors. This was his first step into understanding the needs of a community and the community’s need to serve itself to thrive.

Fast forward to September 2017 when he began serving as the local missions coordinator with Grace Fellowship United Methodist Church after Hurricane Harvey. Wearing blue jeans and T-shirt, he worked with other churches and volunteers in Bear Creek Village and in Canyon Gate, two of many hard-hit neighborhoods where he helped to coordinate restoration efforts. Grace Fellowship UMC funneled volunteers to neighborhoods through its “Church in Action —Rebuilding Lives.”

Now Pretti, who has lived in the Katy area with his family for 11 years, is chief executive officer/co-founder of Katy Responds, a charitable organization continuing efforts to help families whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Harvey.

How and why did you help found Katy Responds? During my service organizing Harvey recovery efforts for Grace Fellowship UMC, I was part of a multi-church team asked to identify the best role that Katy churches and businesses could play in the community’s Harvey recovery. It was determined that progress was being made, but much more remained to be completed — more than 2,000 additional homes. (This is the hidden crisis, part of 100,000 homes where families are still displaced or living in unrestored conditions across Houston.) We thought about how to address the resources shortfall — shortage of volunteers, shortage of monies and the need for churches to focus on their role of serving their whole congregations. We recognized that a central organization serving the Katy region to organize volunteers, pursue grants and identify all families still in need was necessary. I was then asked to lead this new strategy which became Katy Responds.

During the last several years of my career in the business world (before Hurricane Harvey), I’d felt like I was being called in new directions. My heart has been broken over refugee situations around the world. When Hurricane Harvey came, I was in a unique position to engage immediately into rescue/relief efforts. God showed me families to serve and love right in front of me in need of assistance — Harvey “refugees.” Katy is a strong, proud area in which the pain of Harvey revived a sense of community — between neighbors, co-workers, strangers and faith-family members helping one another. I believe that commitment to one another will help our whole community reach full physical, emotional and spiritual restoration.

Your background includes serving on nonprofit boards and working in the construction business and business/tax consulting. How has that helped you as co-founder and CEO of Katy Responds? It’s unbelievable how God equips you but leaves room for you to be stretched! My broad background has allowed me to be agile in jumping from building administrative structure, pursuing home restoration funding, meeting families in need, to construction site planning and safety. Leading any organization requires a great team of folks, and we have that in our business and church partners and amazing volunteers.

What does Katy Responds do? Katy Responds is a disaster relief and planning organization responding for the glory of God. Our most urgent work is assisting qualifying families in returning home through restoration assistance. We also desire to construct an emergency response plan to organize efforts among Katy area churches and businesses in coordination with area offices of emergency management.

Who belongs to Katy Responds? Our current network team-members include: Cane Island Storage, Cinco Ranch Church of Christ, Current...a Christian Church, Family Life Assembly of God, Grace Fellowship UMC, Holy Covenant UMC, Houston Responds, Jeff Davidson & Associates, Katy Bible Church, Kingsland Baptist Church, New Hope Presbyterian Church, Powerhouse Church, Red Cross of Fort Bend County, Redeemer Community Church, Rotary Club of Katy, St. Peter’s UMC, The Church on the Rock (Iglesia Sobre la Roca Katy), The Church at Cane Island, The Hive Katy, The Fellowship Church, United Way of Waller/Fort Bend County.

How is it funded? Katy Responds is funded through local, regional and national partners including individuals, local churches and community-minded businesses such as Rotary Club and American Red Cross. However, in order to pursue grant funding to benefit Katy for home restoration monies, administrative costs must be locally raised. We are so grateful for our current local partners and their support without which we could not have already begun bringing families home.

How can the community help? There are four primary ways our Katy community can assist: 1) Check on your friends and neighbors impacted by Harvey and see how they are physically and emotionally — if help is still needed, let us know. 2) Volunteer to assist in restoring Katy families’ homes and lives. We have over 75+ ways to engage in serving. 3) Encourage your business / church / organization to become a Katy Responds network team-member to allow our work to grow and help more families get home. 4) Make a financial gift to Katy Responds in support of families healing after Hurricane Harvey. Please reach out to us on our website or message us at INFO@KATYRESPONDS.ORG

What are your short- and long-term goals for the nonprofit? Katy Responds is immediately focused on healing our community from Hurricane Harvey by physically restoring families into their homes. To do that we need to grow our network team-members roster and bring in additional restoration grants. Longer-term, we desire Katy to be better prepared to help ourselves and our neighbors by planning and harnessing the time, talent and treasures to respond to local emergencies (flooding, fire, etc.).

Helping others plays a large role in your life. What’s next? God has placed me in a position to love and serve Katy where my family has lived for 11 years. I want to show my children how to love and serve well and be humble in using their talents for God.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? August 25, 2017 and the days following Harvey were a traumatic time for our community. But I’m encouraged about our community when I think of Labor Day 2017 when all our friends and neighbors were out checking on and helping one another — sharing love and life. Go say “Hello” to your neighbor, see how they are today. Don’t forget what a great community we have.

karen.zurawski@chron.com

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