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Beacons of Hope in Midst of Harvey Despair

Hurricane Harvey Recovery

Hurricane Harvey Relief Worker Shares Her “Drop in the Bucket” Experience at Nob Hill Apartments in Houston.

We walk through the rooms of a storm soaked apartment in Houston, as Mary, a twenty-plus-year resident of Nob Hill Apartments, points out the items she hopes she can keep, but we can clearly see are lost.

Safety masks covering our mouths and noses do nothing to block the rank smell of stagnant flood water and growing mold. The air in the apartment is warm and humid, the air outside buzzing with mosquitos preying on the exposed skin of anyone walking through the community working to salvage what they can from the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Even with the flood waters receded, we feel the sense of loss that weighs heavy as a storm cloud over the apartment community we’ve come to serve.

We try to prepare Mary for the worst—the disheartening fact that most of her worldly possessions must be declared casualties of the hurricane’s destructive force. But Mary’s determination outweighs our own, and pushes us in a new direction. Where we strive to prepare her for despair, she insists upon building us up with hope. And as we tell her we will help her as best we can, she leaves us with these words: “When I was a child, my teacher told me that the good deeds you do are added as stars to your crown in heaven. Your crowns are going to be full of all the stars in the heavens.”

Our group of volunteers left Arizona in the early hours of Sept. 6 to make our way to Houston. Our team was made up of rental housing team members from Bella Investment Group in Flagstaff, who had committed to partner with Apartment Life, an organization that places CARES Teams within apartment communities to “look for ways to love their neighbors as themselves.” We have often seen the outpouring of love CARES Teams deliver to the residents of our Bella communities—now was our chance to take the CARES mission upon ourselves and make a difference in the lives of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

After spending Wednesday evening assembling and loading U-Haul trucks with Resident Recovery Kits, we headed into the community on Thursday to see where we could help. As we approached Nob Hill Apartments, a 1300+ unit apartment community situated on Brays Bayou in the Meyerland suburb, we saw streets lined with debris and abandoned furniture, clothing, toys, even cars—all casualties of the surging flood waters. Nob Hill is where we met Mary, along with dozens of other residents, who were packing up what they could to leave the community many of them called home. We expected the despair in the faces of the people of the community to match the destruction we saw in the streets. But where we expected despair, we saw hope.

One of the first young men we spoke to assured us that he had not been hit “too bad” by Harvey’s destructive power. “For me, it wasn’t as bad as for other folks,” he told us as we walked through one section of Nob Hill. “Other people got it much worse.”

I learned later that for him, “not too bad” meant he “only” lost his car and about half of the possessions in his apartment. He counted himself lucky, despite his losses, and assured us that now that he knew we were there, he would help us find people who needed more help than he did. And he was true to his word. He eagerly came to us with the names and addresses of neighbors who could “really use your help,” and seemed overjoyed to be what he considered a “small part” of our work. The misery we expected seemed to have receded with the flood waters, and in its place love, humanity, and hope had blossomed.

For the CARES team in Houston, the Relief Kits and resources they handed out seemed like only a “drop in the bucket” of the recovery that needed to be done in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. An office team member, who had been pulled from a different property to assist at Nob Hill, described her efforts of pointing residents toward resources and gathering contact information from those who needed to move as “a drop in the bucket” compared to what she felt the people around her needed and the losses she knew they had endured. Even as we gave resources, monies, and hugs to those we met, we began to say that we knew it was only “a drop in the bucket” for those who had lost so much so quickly.

Yet the enduring power of hope outshined our perspective. The more people we met, the more we got the sense that in creating for themselves a sense of normalcy even among lost possessions, abandoned homes, and more, the residents of this community were finding something beyond the despair we saw on the news. Make no mistake—there remains much to be done to restore what has been lost in these communities devastated by the storms. But even beyond the knowledge of loss is the hope of helping hands. We saw donations from across the country pooled together to fan the flames of this hope. We witnessed police cars lining the streets from around the country to lend aid and relief to first responders who had not yet even had the chance to assess and accept their personal losses. We saw barbecue fundraisers and Red Cross vans delivering lunches and dinners on a daily basis where they were needed most. We saw neighbor reaching out to neighbor to lighten each other’s loads. And we saw tears of sorrow become tears of joy as people heard how far folks had come to help.

“To help me?” one woman said to me, stepping back in shock from a tight hug when I told her we had flown in from Arizona. “Y’all came all this way just to help me?”

“We know it’s just a drop in the bucket,” I found myself saying, but she cut me off.

“A drop in the bucket?” she gasped, clasping my hands in her own. “Child, it’s the whole ocean!”

I left Houston with news of the impending impact of Hurricane Irma ringing in the background on every television set we passed from our hotel lobby to the airport terminal. In the shadows of yet another destructive storm, it’s hard to ignore that there remains so much need along the Gulf Coast as residents there work to rebuild. Hurricane Harvey’s impact will be felt in this area for months, if not years, to come. 

But even in the shadows of these destructive storms crashing upon our shores and cities, we see the silver linings illuminated by the selfless acts of people who keep their heads held high, their spirits lifted, and the hopes of their communities blazing against the dark times ahead. We can all be a part of bringing hope to these communities. Apartment Life continues to raise funds for relief efforts for both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. The Red Cross continues to step up their efforts to prepare and provide relief. Countless other organizations are out there, waiting for each of us to step up and impact lives by being beacons of hope in the midst of despair. 

Donations for Apartment Life Harvey Relief Kits click here
Donations for Apartment Life Irma Relief Kits click here 

Khara E. House serves as the Property Management and Operations Coordinator for Bella Investment Group,LLC (Flagstaff, Ariz.). She was recently the 2017 recipient of the Arizona Multihousing Association’s annual Tribute Award for Manager of the Year (Outside the Valley).