Thriving Through the Corona Crisis: Fort Bend Strong

Jen Gillen, nurse from Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital’s Brazos 5, a dedicated COVID-19 unit.

By Patti Parish-Kaminski –

As it has worldwide, the word “Corona” or “COVID-19” has brought much change to Fort Bend.  Our vocabulary has literally been changed to include phrases, such as the “new normal,” “social distancing,” “contact tracing” and the ever-popular “elbow bump.”  Our daily lives have included activities that we would have never imaged – living in quarantine, long-term home schooling, wearing masks in public and searching in vain for many essentials we had previously taken for granted.

Throughout this crisis, we’ve learned much about what we cannot do, and it has affected us all. From dining out to attending events to literally conducting business as we normally would – all things we could not do.  But Fort Bend is not about what we cannot do; Fort Bend is about what we CAN do.  And, it’s called Fort Bend Strong.

Feeding and Educating Our Children

A Grab and Go lunch provided to Fort Bend children.

We CAN feed and educate our children differently – even though school is closed.

In March, Fort Bend ISD (FBISD)implemented Grab and Go – a drive through food program for Fort Bend children at 22 campuses. The program provided both breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday to Fort Bend children regardless if they were students. Additionally, FBISD’S Collaborative Communities Department distributed food in partnership with the Houston Food Bank throughout the month of May at Dulles High School.

The Houston Food Bank partnered
with FBISD to distribute food.

On Monday, March 30th, Fort Bend ISD teachers and students began online engagement with teacher-facilitated online instruction ensuring that Fort Bend children kept learning but in a different way. On April 14th when Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Dr. Charles Dupre shared that the district would not have face to face classes for the remainder of the school year due to the crisis, he shared, “We have built systems and structures to deliver learning online for the time being, and while we recognize this system is not perfect, we believe it will allow us to successfully complete the year while we focus on our planning for the reopening of school in August and re-strategizing to make up for any lost learning in the current year.”

Dulles Middle School student Adam Belleza finished out 8th grade through FBISD’s online learning.

Dr. Dupre recognized the challenges faced with this new normal for learning. On April 30th, Fort Bend ISD changed their performance standards-based grading system to three categories: Met Standard, Did Not Meet Standard or Did Not Engage. “I want to be very clear that Met Standard does not mean that a student is simply completing assignments and “checking off a list;” it means that a student is demonstrating proficiency in the required learning – the learning that is necessary to prepare them for the next grade level,” explained Dr. Dupre.

And Fort Bend ISD students and teachers finished out the school year both virtually and strong.

Testing for the Virus

We CAN enter into public/private partnerships to test our community for the virus. The City of Sugar Land and United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) offered free drive-through COVID-19 testing at Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land from March 31st through April 24th. Everyone tested was called by the hospital whether they tested positive or negative, and approximately 1,900 individuals were tested at this site alone.

“We are extremely appreciative of United Memorial Medical Center’s work to help make our community safe,” said Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman. “It was an example of a proactive, collaborative approach to protect our residents. The City’s partnership with UMMC to organize and implement a free COVID-19 testing site in Sugar Land was a valuable resource for our community and the region and directly benefited residents of Sugar Land. Testing and diagnosis allows healthcare officials to better control exposure, determine where the virus is spreading and make informed decisions on mitigation measures.”

Nearly 1,900 individuals were tested at Sugar Land’s Smart Financial Centre.

In addition to the testing for the virus at Smart Financial, we CAN access both types of tests for COVID-19 in Fort Bend – the viral test and the antibody test. “A viral test tells you if you have a current infection,” said Dr. Shannon Orsak of Sugar Land’s St. Michael’s Elite Hospital and Emergency Room. According to the CDC, an antibody test tells you if you had a previous infection or have been exposed.

“You’re more sensitive when you have symptoms,” said Orsak, who explained that medical professionals are learning that people when tested again may still have remnants of the virus in their system. This doesn’t mean that they  have been re-infected or caught the virus again; it means that remnants of the virus are still present but not dead. The body simply hasn’t shed all of the virus yet.

St. Michael’s had one of the first positive cases in Fort Bend, and they have been performing the viral test since February. “We saw cases early in Fort Bend because we live in a very diverse county whose residents travel internationally.”

Dr. Orsak’s best advice for avoiding this virus? “Wash your hands and your face – practice good hygiene. Before you walk in a building and when you walk out, use hand sanitizer. For women, forego make-up for now – just don’t wear it. It’s basic science. The more you touch your face, the more likely you are to get sick with any virus.”

Feeding Food–Insecure Neighbors

Kevin Johnson was one of many volunteers working rain or shine to serve families who lined up in cars for assistance at Second Mile Mission.

We CAN feed food-insecure families. A Fort Bend institution for 30 years, Second Mile Mission has served as Fort Bend’s primary food bank garnering assistance not only from the community, but from the Houston Food Bank. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, they provided food to nearly 1,000 families on any given day in a five-hour period. And, they delivered food to seniors who could not leave their home. Pre COVID-19, Second Mile assisted 125 families daily in need of food.

Second Mile is fulfilling their mission – literally – filling pantries and stomachs of those in need.

Supporting Charities

We CAN continue to support our non-profits who need our help now more than ever.  The Sugar Land Skeeters couldn’t have their opening day as scheduled, but rather than throw in the towel, they announced a Pitch Back Pack to help raise money for local charities. For fans purchasing a packet of 10 ticket vouchers for the ’21 season of $130, Skeeters will donate half of the proceeds to the charity of the buyer’s choosing.

“Our non-profit community is not exempt from the hardships felt by organizations and companies during this pandemic,” said Skeeters President Christopher Hill. “They’ve lost galas and other events that in some cases account for their entire budget. We wanted to provide a way that fans can enjoy a game, eventually, while helping some incredibly worthy non-profits.”

OakBend Medical Center accepted love from the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce and HEB.

Now that’s a home run!

Showing Love to Healthcare Heroes

We CAN support our healthcare workers, hospitals and their vital personnel.

When it comes to ambassadors, Fort Bend has the best.  Throughout the crisis, the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce has been there with a “high five” for so many of our healthcare heroes.  Through a partnership with HEB, the Chamber delivered cookies and thank you notes to hundreds of healthcare personnel in Fort Bend, including AccessHealth, OakBend Medical Center and two testing sites.

Chris Siebenaler, Regional Senior VP and CEO and Janan Sackllah of Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital accepted a food donation from the Rammallah Community Center.

And Methodist Sugar Land Hospital was also the recipient of love and support throughout the crisis receiving donations from local organizations and businesses to help boost the spirits of their healthcare heroes.

Celebrating Our High School Seniors

We CAN graduate our high school seniors. It may be a bit late, and it will be outside, but we can – and will – celebrate our seniors’ achievements. All 11 high school ceremonies will be held outdoors at FBISD’s Kenneth Hall Stadium. Ceremonies will take place June 1st through 6th in a safe, non-contact event for graduates and guests.

Fort Bend Christian Academy will also host commencement outdoors at the FBCA Athletic Complex on July 18th at 9 am. Congratulations to all of our seniors!

Fort Bend ISD will follow CDC and Texas Education Agency guidelines before, after and during all graduation ceremonies. For these reasons, all FBISD graduations will be ticketed events to allow for appropriate space to social distance.

Caring for Our Senior Citizens

The congregant room at the O’Shieles Center in Rosenberg, home to Fort Bend Seniors, is usually filled at noon Monday through Friday with seniors enjoying lunch and social activities. Today, the room is home to 60,000 shelf-stable meals that the organization is delivering to seniors at home to the tune of 7,000 meals per week.

We CAN continue to care for our senior citizens – both feeding them and conducting welfare checks.  After closing their congregant centers and with an in-home meal demand in excess of 7,000 meals per week, Fort Bend Seniors Meals on Wheels and Much, Much More rose to the challenge.  With safety protocols in place, Meals on Wheels continued to deliver meals to seniors and included frozen meals during the crisis.  And their ever-important welfare checks were being conducted via telephone with assistance available for seniors in need.

We’re not out of the woods yet by any means, but Fort Bend has stepped up to help our friends and neighbors at a time when we needed it most, and we will continue to do so.  Stay safe, stay well and above all, stay strong – Fort Bend Strong.