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The Woodlands: Where We Work Out Our Differences Within a Culture of Respect

by Dr. Ann Snyder

From the very beginning and in the decades since its founding, The Woodlands has been a place where people from all walks of life have worked toward mutual understanding and respect for one another. In fact, the foundation for that environment was laid even before the official opening of this community in 1974.

Prior to that, The Woodlands Religious Community, Inc.’s 1973 Articles of Incorporation was established to attract all faiths to The Woodlands in preparation for what George Mitchell was about to build. The Woodlands Religious Community would later start doing business and become known as Interfaith of The Woodlands, where I had the incredible opportunity to serve as President & CEO.

The bedrock of mutual respect was of upmost importance to Mr. Mitchell, who felt people of all faiths and socioeconomic groups could and should work, live and play together. Mr. Mitchell believed diversity to be a great strength, not a weakness. It was in his nature to work collaboratively to bring people together within a culture of respect.

The Woodlands Religious Community, Inc. started doing business as Interfaith of The Woodlands after Mr. Mitchell hired the Reverend Don Gebert. Under Gebert’s leadership, Interfaith was in many ways and is today the software of our community – a common thread that held and will hold us all together and make us strive for people-centered solutions to the challenges we face. Simply, Interfaith is the “heart and soul” of The Woodlands.

Reverend Gebert wanted every resident to feel welcome from the beginning. He even went so far as to ride around The Woodlands on his moped, greeting new residents, and making sure they understood that we’re all in this together to “build a more loving and caring community.”

In my time as the CEO of Interfaith, I witnessed firsthand the many ways in which people who live here are able to work together to find the best result for the greatest number. A good example of that was when the Tanglebrush Villa Housing Development, a HUD complex, was proposed in 2006. It seemed everyone understood the additional housing for seniors was needed but there was not a consensus about the location. Some residents were concerned it would lower their property values. We held a meeting of stakeholders at Interfaith Central where those who were worried could voice their opinions while working toward a resolution. Not everyone left the meeting with a sense of enthusiasm about the project, but they all understood its value.

For those kinds of discussions to be fruitful, there has to be an element of respect for all even if you do not agree with everything being said. Sometimes each person in the room has to give up some small part of what they want so that everybody can walk out with the satisfaction that the right thing is being done for the community. People also have to genuinely care for their neighbors. Time and again, I have seen people who live in The Woodlands do just that. I recall when a fire occurred in the middle of the night that displaced quite a few residents primarily seniors, people immediately sprang into action. CISD buses were used to take those folks safely to Christ Church United Methodist. Meantime, all anyone wanted to know was what they could do to help. Interfaith was on the scene to line up assistance for those who were affected and business owners in the area offered to do whatever they could. It didn’t even have to be said – it was just understood – that the managers of the Randall’s grocery store would make sure people had food to eat and Interfaith would do its part to make sure everyone had what they needed. As a community, we do take care of everyone. The Woodlands has always been known for its generosity of spirit.

When I was on the CISD school board under Dr. Don Stockton’s leadership, the Board, Administration and staff had a saying that "all meant all.” Every trustee wanted every child from every family to have the opportunity to learn and achieve to their greatest potential. Not every campus was up to par when I first started to visit them years ago. The other Board members, myself, administration and people throughout the district made it a point to improve every campus so that all children would attend a school that you or I would want our children to attend.

Perhaps I’ve been too direct about what I believe over the years. Our community is going through some changes and challenges that have caused disharmony. I understand that and respect those who might not agree with everything I believe. But if we are all up front about where we really stand on the issues, we can come together and find common ground no matter how difficult the situation might be.

I think Mr. Mitchell would be proud if we could do that within the culture of respect he worked so hard to cultivate decades ago.

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