For the last 2 years, I called Texas home. On sub-zero days in Vermont, I still reminisce on sunshine and bluebonnets until my heart thaws. When Hurricane Harvey hit, I was on my way up from the southern state, headed to AmeriCorps orientation in Vermont. Months later, in December, I had the opportunity to join the relief effort in south Texas for my Independent Service Project.
After having spent the previous 24 hours traveling from my frosty farmhouse apartment in Vermont to the Texas Gulf, 7 am came rather early. Arguably, even earlier when your wake-up call is from Taylor Swift’s new “Reputation” album. Looking around the All Hands and Hearts base in Aransas Pass, most of the volunteers were awake, gathering supplies for the day. Following suit, I quickly got on my work boots and joined the morning hustle.
On a typical morning, we’d arrive on the job site at 8:15 am, get on our PPE, and get to work. Job site duties would vary depending on the damage or how much progress our volunteer crews had made on the home. Because Harvey was a wind driven storm, water damage was sourced from not only flooding but the rain after roofs were compromised. This commonly resulted in stripping the house down to the studs, scrubbing the remaining structure, vacuuming the mold particles released by brushing and finally, spraying every surface with Shockwave, a chemical used for mold remediation.
Every evening, volunteer crews would return to base, unload equipment, and get in line for the shower trailer. Dinner was served in the activity center in the church. We were free around 7 to do as we please until lights out at 10pm.
Now, I understand this does not exactly describe your conventional dream vacation. However, I have never returned from a vacation with the impression that my experience was a pivotal one. Through the sweat, the sand fleas, my newly discovered shellfish allergy, a dislocated jaw, and 2 weeks of sleep deprivation, I would not trade my time in Aransas Pass for anything.
I don’t think “thank you” holds the weight of appreciation I have for the strangers, I now have the privilege of calling friends on that volunteer base. Or, moreover, the homeowners I met, who displayed such resiliency in such a difficult time. The laughs, the late nights swimming in the ocean, the hugs and tears that accompanied every closing day, are memories I hold close to my heart.
Flying over Aransas Pass just before dawn on my last day, I looked out at the glowing daybreak. I knew this wasn’t my final chapter with the disaster relief effort. I smiled to myself, coursing with gratitude from the last couple weeks. The passenger next to me caught my attention and gestured at my backpack. I had forgotten until then, a black A button was emblazoned on the shoulder strap. I explained my service on the Gulf Coast. She smiled warmly and introduced herself; a resident of the community I was serving for.