At 5:15 on the morning of October 6, four chaperones and 24 students from GDS’s High School Peer Leadership Program met at BWI Airport to embark on a trip to Texas to help rebuild after the devastations of Hurricane Harvey. Although we knew there was only so much that a small group of high school students could undertake in just four days, the students, including the three of us, felt the need to try to make a change, no matter how small.
Once we arrived in Houston, the 28 of us squeezed into two 15-person vans and drove to Beaumont, where we would spend the first two full days. On our first full day, we worked with the American Red Cross. The organization had created an emergency shelter for those displaced by the hurricane, and we helped by cleaning their provided sleeping cots. The next day, we removed the interior of two different houses by scraping out moldy insulation and ripping up floorboards. That same day, we drove back to Houston, and along the way, we met with a family who spoke about their experiences during and after the hurricane, as well as their plans for the future. We spent the majority of our last full day dismantling the interior of another house in Houston.
While that was the general outline of our trip, it does not do justice to our experience. Even though the trip felt too short, it was a life-changing whirlwind of activity that we will never forget. Before our trip, we saw pictures broadcasted all over the news of the devastations of the hurricane. However, these pictures could not capture the thousands of people evacuating from their homes, or the musty odor of molding wood, or the desolateness of a house that had to be stripped down to its skeletal beams. Most of all, they could not capture the individual stories of those who suffered from the hurricane.
This trip was a wake-up call for the students and chaperones. It forced us to re-evaluate our privileges and surroundings, and to think about how much we take for granted in our own lives. This trip also made us realize the importance of a community’s values. We made new friends. We sang and danced together. We laughed and cried together. We made a difference together, and that is what holds a community together.