Community Service: Brothers organize construction of laundry room

Eagle Scouts Seth and Samuel Herrera stand in their completed laundry facility Monday for a ribbon cutting ceremony at Good Neighbor Settlement House. The facility was part of the brother’s Eagle Scout project and will help roughly 150 homeless residents to wash clothes regularly at the center. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Brownsville’s unsheltered residents now have an updated and permanent space to wash laundry thanks to 18-year-old brothers and Eagle Scouts Samuel and Seth Herrera, who organized the construction of a new building at Good Neighbor Settlement House after learning the shelter had limited capacity for the service.

The Good Neighbor Settlement House Laundry Room was completed on July 28 after a series of setbacks primarily caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 450 sq. ft. space features three washers and dryers, cleaning supplies, baskets, benches, a table, and a mural for guests.

According to Executive Director Hugo Zurita, the new space will allow over 150 homeless residents to wash clothes regularly. “The Good Neighbor Settlement House board, staff, and clients are so happy and so proud of you,” said Zurita at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Homeless clients do not often have access to laundry services and do not always have the means to carry more than one set of clothes, the shelter explained. “The clothes they were wearing when they arrived end up discarded. The laundry program will cut down on waste and promote public health by offering further hygiene assistance to our clients,” Good Neighbor wrote in a statement.

The Herrera brothers are members of the Boy Scouts of America’s Troop 11 and completed their Eagle Scout service project through the laundry room’s construction. The brothers led the planning, fundraising, and building of the laundry room through donations and funding sources they coordinated themselves.

Upon review by the Boy Scouts of America following the project’s completion, the brothers passed the board to achieve the Eagle Scout rank.

“It’s kind of hard to believe just looking at it now,” said Seth Herrera, standing outside the entrance to the finished building. “When we first heard about it, we thought it would be a lot easier than it was.”

Herrera said that despite the challenges, it was an extremely valuable experience working with staff and volunteers to give back. “Personally, this project has shown me that it takes a lot of communication and hard work to actually get anything done,” he said.

“We got to talk to a lot of different people working with construction, working with plumbing, working with electrical — the whole thing from the ground up. We had to dig up everything and lay the foundation, then strike up the walls, the roofing. Looking back, it really was an amazing project.”

In total, the Herrera brothers managed to fundraise $21,000 for the completion of the laundry room — an impressive feat during a global pandemic. Local leaders aided the project, including U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, whose office contributed a $12,000 donation.

Larry Jokl, the troop committee chair and former scoutmaster, applauded the Herrera’s for engaging with the community. He suggested the project after realizing the shelter had only one washer and dryer.  “You look at Good Neighbor — it has to be one of the best things this town has got. It helps people,” he said.

“These kids did a dynamite job. They went out and got their own funding, which isn’t easy in this day and age — and just progressed from there.”