Have you ever canceled a family vacation for a great reason? When Hurricane Harvey made landfall, one of our employees postponed her long-awaited vacation and, instead, traveled to Houston to assist with the recovery and rescue missions. Below is a first-hand account from Ellen Harris, a Pro Athlete front-end designer, and what she and her husband witnessed as they traded their big-vacation in for a round-trip drive to Texas to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery.
We have all been there, that countdown to a big vacation. You know the one you have been planning for months, the one you have requested off of work a whole year in advance for, the one you vow to do nothing but relax? For the past five years, Labor Day weekend has always been the placeholder for those types of vacations for my husband Toby and I. We were married over Labor Day weekend in 2011. So, every year since we have planned a vacation to a new state as a chance for us to reconnect; we hope to reach 50 years and all 50 states.
This year was no different. We booked our travels to Tybee Island, GA, and requested PTO from our work for the time off and started the countdown. But, four days before we were scheduled to leave, Hurricane Harvey barreled down the Gulf and wreaked havoc in Texas.
Georgia is nowhere near Texas, but my husband is a volunteer firefighter and Pro Athlete, the company I work for, encourages all employees to Embrace Stewardship. That’s why we changed our plans and made our anniversary vacation a mission trip to Texas instead.
We left Thursday, August 31 with a car full of water, food, an inflatable boat, and other supplies that had been donated by fellow Pro Athlete employees, parents from our son’s daycare, and ScriptPro employees. The entire ride down we listened to the Zello walkie talkie app, planning and driving according to the needs that came over the air. When we reached Beaumont, we knew the Ford Pavillion Center was where we needed to be.
Since I have three years of animal rescue work experience, it was the perfect place. The Ford Pavillion Center had become the epicenter for all Jefferson County animals (dogs, horses, goats, pigs, etc.) that were rescued from the storm by the army of other volunteers.The animal rescue volunteers came with their trucks, horse trailers, and boats with one mission in mind: rescue the animals.
Despite the Ford Pavillion Center being filled with animals, it was eerily quiet. You could see the look of exhaustion on the animals faces from days of worrying how they would survive the flood waters. We spent the day helping organize as much as we could, unloading supplies for both animals and workers that kind-hearted people from all over the country had brought, and also loading up supplies for those who had lost everything. There is not enough empathy in the world, and no words to be said when you look into the eyes of someone who tells you they just lost everything knowing that at the end of all of this, we were going home to a house we left just the way it was.
While working at Ford Pavilion we received an email from Ashton Morgan, one of the creators of Helpers of Houston (www.helpersofhouston.com), requesting volunteer workers for different neighborhoods in the Houston area. Knowing that we wanted to help those whose homes were damaged, I quickly responded letting her know that we were willing to help with any moving or demo work that was needed and we had brought all the tools necessary for the job. Within moments, Ashton gave me a call about a lady in Pasadena who also needed help with the cleanup of her home. Without hesitation, I told her we would be there to help.
On Saturday, September 2 we headed from Houston to Pasadena. On the way there I told Toby that I never realized how silent floods are. As you drive down the road, you can hardly tell if a house was affected by the floods until you turn the corner and see the piles of carpet, pressboard furniture, and mattresses that lined the sides of houses and buildings. It was no different when we pulled up to Donna's house; her home looked untouched, but just 25 ft to the left were overflowing dumpsters and a large pile of debris from her home and others in the neighborhood.
Saturday was spent just trying to organize a plan for her home, in all the chaos. When water gets into a house, the moisture in the air ruins more than just the items it touches. For Donna that meant having to part with a lot of items from her childhood, furniture she inherited from her mother, hundreds of books that pages would have turned moldy if not tossed, and tiny knick knacks that she had collected over the years. Along with all the organizing came the unintentional game of chess. It was a process of moving items from one room to another to sort through all the damage but also ensuring you left enough room to work on removing the drywall.
By the end of the day, Toby and I left exhausted and with the feeling of despair that we may not be able to see the house through to the end with just one day left. We exchanged numbers with Ryan, a member of the Coast Guard and also a volunteer with Helpers of Houston. His house was spared from the flooding, and because of that, he made sure to get out and help those who were not as fortunate. We let him know that we would be back tomorrow and would let him know when the house was ready for the drywall to be cut out so he could help us with it.
We woke up Sunday with the determination to finish Donna's house and leave Texas with the feeling of knowing her house was at least ready for the rebuilding stage. When we arrived at Donna's, we moved the last remaining large items out of the way, took pictures of the mold already starting to come through on the walls, and started the demo work on the wet drywall and insulation. True to his word and despite putting in as much work as we had, Ryan showed up ready to work and with the same determination we had to finish Donna's house. It was a lot of hard work, but we passed the time by listening to the hold music on Donna's phone while she waited to talk to FEMA, learned more about Ryan and his wife, and took breaks outside to talk with the neighbors around us who were also working on cleaning up homes. Around 5 pm that day the 2 ft of drywall in every room of the house was cut out and a bleach mix was sprayed to help with the possible onset of mold. Before leaving we made sure to take a picture of all us, so we could document not only the work we had done but the bond that was created through something as devastating as Hurricane Harvey.
It is overwhelming to think how much damage Hurricane Harvey did to Houston and the surrounding areas, but it is even more amazing to see just how many people came together. From those who created the Zello groups and stayed up countless nights dispatching and rescuing those who pleaded for help, to those who went out to rescue our four legged friends who couldn't call for help, to those who volunteered and are still volunteering at shelters, with home clean-ups and rebuilding, to everyone else who has donated supplies and money to help with relief. This is what they mean by Texas Strong.
Our drive home on Monday was a little bittersweet as we reflected back on our trip and volunteer efforts, but I kept coming back to one thing. A little over a month ago I did my 6-month self-assessment for Pro Athlete, and one of the questions asked is about how well you are doing with living the 12 Core Values. I gave myself a lower score and put on the assessment, "I still feel the same as I did at my 90-day review and that I really need to step up to the plate with Embrace Stewardship. I have started to think more recently about what I would like to spend my time volunteering for, and I just need to put a plan in action."
My plan was certainly not to be helping those in Texas after a devastating Hurricane, but I was so glad that both my husband and I could step up to the plate together and hit this one out of the park.
If you would like to donate to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, you can do so by visiting the Houston Flood Relief Fund.