As with every disaster, the desire to help others becomes very strong. This was the case when on August 25th, 2017 Hurricane Harvey touched down on Houston and devastated several communities in its path. How did Westcoast Connection decide to help? With our newest initiative WCC Cares and its commitment to offer meaningful life-changing opportunities to inspire lifelong volunteerism, our team of 21 full-time staff descended upon Houston last week. Full of energy and anticipation, we were grateful for this opportunity to volunteer in Houston as a group.
Arriving from five cities across North America, our group came together on our first night in Houston to prepare for our service. This exercise referred to as “service learning” helps educate volunteers so they have a greater understanding of the communities they are helping, adding more meaning to the service work to come. Staggering figures relating to Hurricane Harvey’s impact were shared such as how 51 inches of rain fell on Houston, property losses totaled as much as $75 billion, more than 72,000 people were rescued and an estimated 450,000 victims sought disaster assistance. With these numbers in mind, our group moved on to creating our Full Value Contract, to set the ground rules for our team members to follow. We all agreed to work hard, have a positive attitude, challenge ourselves, and support each other, among other values.
After connecting with SBP, a non-profit organization with a mission to shrink the time between disaster and recovery, our group was scheduled to volunteer alongside them for two days. With their rebuilding efforts well underway in Houston, our team was split between Ms. Anne’s and Mr. Rosa’s homes. Hearing the stories behind these homeowners and the devastation these families experienced due to Hurricane Harvey made us even more motivated to get them back home sooner!
With little or no experience in building projects we weren’t sure what to expect or how we could actually be helpful. With SBP’s on-site coordinators it quickly became clear that this wasn’t a concern as there was plenty of work to be done and they were happy to show us how. Due to the flooding Mr. Rosa’s house had been gutted up to four feet from the floor to remove the damaged walls. With the studs showing it was our job to measure, cut and install the missing drywall throughout the house. Tricky corners, openings for pipes, windows and the need to fall flush with the remaining walls made for challenging work. This steep learning curve was made easier thanks to teamwork and continual guidance from SBP.
Meanwhile in Ms. Anne’s house our team got to work priming the ceilings and walls, spraying texture onto the walls, installing drywall in the bathroom and taping and mudding. What’s mudding you ask? Well we asked the same question and SBP’s Holly was happy to provide a tutorial for us. In short it involves taping and applying joint compound (mudding) along the seams between adjacent sheets of drywall.
After two days of volunteering in Houston it was incredible to see the progress our group was able to help facilitate in these homes. Ms. Anne dropped by for a surprise visit and watching her walk through her front door and seeing how happy she was with how much we had accomplished in such a short time was so rewarding. The dedication and ownership everyone felt for their individual projects was demonstrated when many of us didn’t want to leave at the end of the day! The result was we reached the targeted phases of completion so the dry walling was done in Mr. Rosa’s house and the walls in Ms. Anne’s house were ready for their final coats of caramel-colored paint.
At the end of day two, we formed a reflection circle to share our low and high moments and it was clear that we had all stayed true to our group values and were proud of our combined efforts. The consensus was that meeting Ms. Anne helped put a face to the rebuilding efforts needed after a devastating disaster like Hurricane Harvey and added such meaning to our work. We also agreed that it was so rewarding to learn new skills such as dry walling and mudding and how we’ll never look at a home improvement project or show the same way!
We were so impressed with SBP and feel much gratitude for their organization, guidance, instruction, patience and kindness throughout this experience. There is still much work to be done to help the displaced residents return home so SBP is working hard to mobilize volunteers in Houston. With this knowledge, and in cooperation with SBP, we are thrilled to launch a new Hurricane Relief: Rebuilding Houston program for teens to join the efforts this summer. If this is what we accomplished in two days, imagine the difference we can make with your help on this 10-day program!