Extending a Helping Hand – Fundraisers for Hidden Pines Fire, Bastrop County, Texas

By Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape

There is a story in folklore about father Abraham. Surrounded by fires of evil, his fate appeared certain. Into this scene flew a little bird, with a beak full of water to drop on the fire. Abraham thanked the tiny creature, but wondered what effect just a small gift of water would have on the fire. The little bird chirped cheerfully, “It may not put out the fire, but I wanted you to know whose side I am on.”

Sixty four families lost homes recently in Bastrop County in the Hidden Pines Fire. Most of those families did not have insurance to rebuild. The Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit is tasked with the challenge of raising funds to help these families who cannot help themselves. If the funds can be raised to purchase materials, volunteers will build the homes. It will take about $2.5 million to rebuild the 48 uninsured homes.

Not long ago, I met Yetkin Yildirim at a conference for small communities. After a brief introduction he said to me, “We want to help Bastrop County recover from the Hidden Pines Fire. The Texas Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce in Austin will have a fundraiser for you. When can you come?” Not knowing about the TTACC, I was unsure. But maybe a few hundred dollars could be raised to help out with our great need. What had we to lose?

Every now and then in life one finds a pleasant outcome – someone giving much more than anyone could ask or expect. That was the surprise waiting for me at the December 2, Turkish-American Chamber meeting in Austin, Texas.

The meeting was hosted by Raindrop House. I and two others, Christine Files, chair of the board and Sheila Lowe, president of the Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team, were invited to attend a dinner and fundraiser there.

Upon our arrival at the inconspicuous headquarters, tucked in the corner of a small shopping center in far North Austin, we were warmly welcomed by Orhan Kucukosman, President & CEO of the American Turkic Business Council & Texas Turkish American Chamber of Commerce. Greeting me with a smile, he said. “Welcome, Judge Pape. Let me show you around.”

That was the beginning of an almost magical evening of hospitality, great food, introductions, generosity and joy. We were also welcomed by Kuaybe Basturk, Austin Branch Director of the Raindrop Women’s Association. She made us feel comfortable and special. Soon, dozens of Turkish-Americans gathered for a smorgasbord of traditional dishes. The informal conversation over these delectable delights reflected the feeling of enthusiasm and comradery. There was a sort of buzz in the room. I didn’t count, but I’d guess that there were close to 75 in attendance.

Soon our hosts welcomed all and introduced us as special guests, along with the State of Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar.

Orhan told a bit about the organizations supporting this evenings gathering and fundraiser. He then called on Mahmut Gok, Executive Director of Embrace Relief, the humanitarian arm of TTACC, to talk about the purpose of this event. A video of the world-wide impact of Embrace Relief presented an impressive perspective on the outreach of this fine organization.

Chris Files then gave an informative talk about the great needs of families who lost their homes and possessions in the fire. She also showed a brief video about the volunteers and resources we have available to build homes, if materials can be purchased.
I was honored to read Certificates of Appreciation to our hosting organizations, sign a Proclamation making December 2, 2015 Turkish-American Day in Bastrop County and say a few words to the gathering. I began by saying that it is not how you dress, walk or talk that makes you a real Texan. It is the feeling in your heart of friendship and caring for others that distinguish one as a Texan. Knowing that, I felt right at home in this room full of first generation Texans.

I also pointed out that our lives are richest and most meaningful when we are doing something for someone else. That is the source of true happiness. My concluding thought was this, “You cannot out-give God.” When we give, it is given back to us in good measure – as a basket of grain that is shaken down and pressed together.

So I challenged these new friends to do all they could to help the victims of the recent fires with confidence that good will come back to them. I said that it will take about $50,000 to buy the materials for a new home. It would be wonderful if we could raise that much money on this special night.
Even with that challenge, I had no way of knowing how generous Turkish-Americans are! Mahmut Gok of Embrace Relief revealed, already at this early time, over $10,000 had been given or committed to our fund. He challenged his friends and family to give generously. As the news of the need spread, gifts were announced rapidly. In a matter of minutes the goal was reached and exceeded. It was simply amazing that, in such a short time, $51,000 was raised by these caring citizens.

The challenge was answered and the goal achieved. Now we will carefully select a family, purchase the materials and arrange for volunteers to construct a new home. When it’s all done, hopefully this spring, we will have a dedication celebration in Bastrop County. Everyone is invited!
Gifts were exchanged among new friends as the evening came to a close. The Turkish-American community centered in Austin demonstrated an impressive spirit of generosity and a refreshing attitude of joy in helping others. It was uplifting to be with such optimistic, positive folks.
“Speaking on behalf of everyone, I can assure you it was an evening we all enjoyed very much,” said Orhan Kucukosman. “Disasters like this make us remember the true meaning of the word community and allows everyone to come together to help.”

The fundraiser was a wonderful gathering of the generous, caring people of Raindrop, the Turkish-American Chamber, and Embrace Relief. I am impressed and overjoyed at the generosity of these hardworking, caring people. We in Bastrop County, Texas are eternally grateful for our generous new friends in the Turkish-American community. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all who gave so freely to victims of the Hidden Pines Fire. Your gifts will be remembered. Your fellow Texans in Bastrop County know whose side you are on!