We Can Be podcast - The Heinz Endowments

Born for Storms: Angela Blanchard was a rock during Houston’s Hurricane Harvey & now she’s out to change the world for good (S01EP13)

May 30, 2018

The late-summer evening of Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, is forever etched in Angela Blanchard’s mind. National Weather Service maps showed increasingly ominous swirls of blue, green, yellow and red hovering over the Gulf of Mexico as the force of Hurricane Harvey amped to a top speed of 132 miles an hour.


The Category 4 storm wreaked havoc on Louisiana, Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize, saving its most brutal impact for Houston, Texas. The number who died reached 107, and the storm caused an astounding $125 billion in damage, affecting13 million people in Texas and the other southern Gulf States. At one point during the aftermath, one third of Houston was underwater.


As response efforts for the hurricane reached a crisis point, Angela was asked to step in – and did so to universal acclaim. In under 24 hours, she arranged shelter for 10,000, including in the plan a cohort of interpreters in 24 languages to ensure that all would be welcomed and assisted.


“I always have to break the news to people that this ain’t heaven. This is earth,” she says of the inevitable and inescapable rough times that life brings. “And when Harvey happened, we really, really needed each other.”


Thankfully, connecting those in need with those who can help is Angela’s thing.  


Angela has been a longtime storm-force gale of positivity in Houston, spending more than two decades leading BakerRipleywhich provides $250 million annually toward services that make life better for residents of the Texas Gulf Coast. The 108-year old nonprofit, formerly known as Neighborhood Centers, serves half a million individuals annually in 70 sites across Houston and beyond. Angela served as Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Brown University’s Swearer Center in spring 2018, and was honored as the recipient of the 22nd Heinz Award in the Human Condition category in 2017. 


Angela’s dedication comes from a deep well of personal history, and she remembers those who tried to shame her family for being poor when she was a kid.  The experience gave her an intense belief that there is always more to the story, and all deserve respect and a chance to achieve the life they imagine.


Named one of Fast Company magazine’s 1,000 most creative people in business, Angela is compassionate, smart, funny — and has one of the sharpest twitter feeds around. Hear her story on this engaging, moving episode of “We Can Be.”


“We Can Be” is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkindental music by Josh Slifkin.

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