There's an old saying in Texas: "It is your concern when the neighbor's house is on fire."
Late last summer Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas coast. Homes were destroyed and communities were leveled by ravaging winds or rising flood waters, the most costly storm in U.S. history. Schools and businesses were shut down, farms were badly damaged or destroyed, and livestock were scattered or lost to rising flood waters.
Within hours, emergency resources were scrambled and help began filtering in to the region to help those who were displaced or had suffered serious damages. State and federal officials did what they could to clear roads and highways and begin the process of restoring power and other utilities to over a million users.
Rescue workers were soon hard at work searching for lost or displaced people and animals and relocating storm victims in cities, towns and rural areas along the coast. But chances are good, more times than not, the first responders to offer a hand or a hug or a friendly smile were neighbors helping neighbors. Long before the rains stopped and the skies cleared, neighbors were checking on neighbors, helping many escape rising waters, or rolling up their sleeves to help others that were trapped by debris and cut off from resources.
Soon people were consoling each other, setting up portable kitchens to feed refugees of the storm. Some began calling the neighborly effort a tribute to the spirit of Texas, or "Texas Strong," as some began to call it, a catch phrase that soon began appearing on makeshift signs on homes and storefronts and eventually on t-shirts and lapel buttons.
Six Months Later
Nearly six months after the storm flattened communities and forever changed the lives of millions in the Texas coastal region. Many are still dealing with clean up, debris removal, and repairs or reconstruction of homes and businesses. Texans continue to be strong in spite of the challenges.
Many displaced citizens are still living in temporary housing units, others who lost their jobs when businesses were destroyed are still in the process of putting their lives back together.
But in spite of the vastness of the damage and destruction, the enormity of the storm's far-reaching aftermath, neighbors are still helping neighbors in need. And help has come from diverse sources. Churches near and far are still offering help through various programs and methods. Volunteers from other cities and states are still providing time and money to help those in need, especially in rural communities like Rockport and Port Aransas where the damages were devastating and widespread.
But as winter slowly moves toward spring, comes news of more unexpected help filtering in to a region hit hard by the storm.
Spring Break Relief
Erin Warner, the Community Service Programs Coordinator for Campus Life at Tarleton State University in Stephenville (near Ft. Worth) is organizing yet another outreach program designed to give spring break students an alternate spring break experience. While this year students will visit heavily ravaged areas on the Texas coast to help with cleanup and rebuilding efforts, it marks the fifth consecutive year the Campus Life program has organized alternative spring break trips through a program that call “Tarleton Serves.”
"Over the years, we’ve traveled to Alabama, Colorado, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana. While there, we conducted services that ranged from natural disaster relief to Habitat for Humanity projects," Warner says.
But this year, students get the chance to stay a little closer to home to offer aid to communities and individuals needing an extra helping hand.
"It didn’t seem right for us to travel to some other place and provide service there when our own home was in need of a lot of help," said Becca Hanson, President of Tarleton Serves. "So it’ll be nice to be able to go down there (to the Texas coast) and help out our own."
Warner said the whole purpose of Tarleton Serves is to allow students to spend their spring break conducting community service projects.
University officials say Tarleton State is the college home to a large number of students from the South Texas region, many from rural communities and areas that were damaged by Harvey.
"During the trip, we expect to be conducting clean-up, home restoration, saving what is still salvageable, things of that nature," said Warner. "As for lodging, it varies on where we are going. One year, we stayed at a dormitory at a nearby college, the other we stayed in cabins at a summer campground."
The upcoming spring break excursion marks just another round of assistance from Tarleton students who organized relief programs for Texas hurricane victims. The initial effort included staging fundraising activities in the early fall semester (following the hurricane) to help raise money that was donated to support storm victims.
In addition to fund drives to raise money for relief, students at the college staged on and off campus campaigns, including the design and sales of a "Houston Strong" t-shirt project that raised about $4,000, to help hard hit areas.
"Tarleton Serves partnered with other groups to conduct an item donation drive to collect toiletry items, hygiene items, and various other items (needed in disaster areas)," Warner adds.
She says already nearly three dozen students have signed up to participate in the alternative spring break program, and she expects to cut off participants when 50 have applied to make the trip. She said it will cost an estimated $550 per student to finance the program, and students who participate are only required to pay $100 of those expenses. Student fundraisers will be staged to help solicit donations to make up the difference.
Officials of Tarleton Serves say the idea behind alternate spring break projects is to promote community service by creating a culture of commitment within the campus community.
Alternative spring break programs like the one the students and faculty of Tarleton State University are planning in March reinforces the idea that the best help comes from neighbors helping neighbors. It also supports the hopeful expression of optimism and confidence, "Texas Strong."