When Harvey hit us last year, the world seemed downright fixated on the way Houstonians banded together and helped each other survive—and recover from—the storm. The only people who weren’t in awe of us? Us. Getting together to help each other out is just what we do.
Ours is an odd city, built on a lie, in a swamp, in a part of the world with not a lot to recommend it. And yet our early settlers stayed, forming a town along Buffalo Bayou that, somehow, began to thrive. From those days to now, when things go well, Houstonians have united in the single-minded pursuit of enjoying it and making the most of it. And when the bad times come, we’re there for each other.
During the 1935 flood, the one that sparked the building of Addicks and Barker reservoirs, a group of families found themselves trapped on West 21st Street by fast-rising water from the bayous. As the story goes, they asked for help the only way they could, by tossing out a message in a bottle. “We need help out here in Shady Acres,” the missive read. “The water is all over everything—the cat is in the attic, so hurry and help us—just anybody.” Remarkably, someone found it, and rescuers arrived in time to pull the families out of the water and motor them to safety. Again, what happened during Harvey—that was nothing new.
When people do well here, they give back. Most of the institutions this city is built on were set up by those who’d rolled the dice—whether they were trick dice is another story—and won. Flush with their good fortune, these people turned around and kicked in the money and/or land that gave us Memorial Park, Jones Hall, Hermann Park, and Rice University (although the Rice money took a brief detour because of … murder). The hospitals that formed the nucleus of the Texas Medical Center, too, were mostly started by generous citizens.
It was that same mindset that saw the Wortham Center completed in the mid-1980s. The initial funding wasn’t going to cover the cost to build the theater complex, but even at the height of the oil bust, more than 3,000 people chipped in to get the project finished.
It’s not just the rich who give, either. In fact, time and again in recent years, Houston’s charity organizations have received the highest number of donations, in proportion to the population, of any major city. We do it because we love this town, and—most of the time, anyway—each other. But there’s always more work to do, which is why we’ve put together the following 60 ways—big and small—to show your love for this town, and to make it a better place for all Houstonians, even the ones who don’t know how to merge on the highway.