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Americares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis leads a health-focused relief and development organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster.
I was cowering under a bed when the fierce winds of Hurricane Hugo ripped the roof off the hotel where I was staying in Charleston, S.C., in 1989. I walked outside when the eye of the storm passed overhead, then rushed back under the bed when the winds returned.
That experience has made me particularly sensitive to the impact of hurricanes on those who endure them. Surviving such a storm is traumatic, even more so when your town, home, family and friends bear the full weight of the destructive winds and heavy rain.
I am amazed by the people who stand up after disasters to rebuild, restore and return their lives to something like normal. To me, they are the silver lining of the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey to the coast of Texas one year ago this week. While the stories of death and destruction are heartbreaking, the tales of heroism, selfless service and resilience are an inspiration.
A year out from the storm, I am choosing to focus on these stories. They inspire my team and me as we continue Americares hurricane recovery work still ongoing in Houston and southeast Texas.
The heroes include Eugenia Chargois, a community health worker at Ubi Caritas, who went door to door, knowing that more people than ever needed the help the social services agency could provide. Eugenia knocked on the door of Beaumont residents Loretta and Ronald, who had lost everything in Harvey’s flood and gladly accepted the clothing, food and personal care supplies Eugenia offered.
David and his wife now enjoy a bright future. They had been stranded without power or insulin after Hurricane Harvey dumped over 50 inches of rain on their Houston home.
Photo by Americares.
The heroes include the staff at Houston’s San Jose Clinic who worked the phones in the soggy days after the storm, calling every diabetic patient on their list, knowing that the patients’ insulin — a true lifeline — was degrading without refrigeration and offering San Jose’s insulin supply (donated by Americares) at no cost. Living in his flooded home with no power, Houston patient David picked up his phone — he is alive today because he received that call.
The heroes include JJ Watt, a defensive end for the Houston Texans NFL team, who used his influence to attract donations from around the world. JJ’s foundation dedicated itself to helping Texas recover and with his help, thousands of survivors have access to health care at mobile clinics and services at social service agencies, such as Covenant House, where young Houston mother Aneesha now lives with her baby, toddler and fiancé after her apartment was flooded.
Hurricane Harvey survivor Aneesha, her fiancé and their two children share a moment with JJ Watt. The young family has a safe place to live at Covenant House in Houston, which JJ Watt’s foundation and Americares repaired after the storm.
There’s much left to do, and at the one-year mark we will rightly hear about people left behind, still rebuilding and fighting to get their lives back on track. Our hearts — and our hands — are with them as we continue our work to restore and improve health services in Texas. At the same time, let’s also recognize survivors’ tenacious spirit — the optimism, realism and grit that drives storm survivors to stand up and step forward to help their neighbors in need.