When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, I felt blessed to be unaffected. Little did I know that I would be very affected, yet in the most positive and fulfilling ways.
Harvey hit just a few months into my term as chair of Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC). Since I had not been involved in JVC’s prior efforts to assist after natural disasters, I was impressed with how quickly The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and JVC determined that our hands were needed in Houston. Almost immediately, JVC was planning logistics for a four-day service trip with Houston’s Federation and Nechama: The Jewish Response to Disaster.
Our diverse group of 15 included 13 volunteers led by JVC’s incomparable Erica Bloom and Abigail Malischostak. Ranging in ages from 20s to early-50s, we had varying degrees of service experience, levels of religious observance and motivations for participating. We, however, shared a common passion to help—let’s put on our gloves and goggles and get it done!
From the moment we gathered in our 15-passenger van, dubbed “Vanna White,” friendships and bonds were created. We met amazing professional and lay leaders, who welcomed us with their authentic stories. My favorite new friend, David, whose home just missed being flooded, assumed an ambassador role, telling volunteers about Houston’s Jewish community and how much help the Houston community still needs and will need for a long time.
After arriving at our first house and being briefed on homeowner Dan’s story, we became pros at mucking and gutting (ripping out dry wall to remove mold). We met Mike who shared his disappointment at his scrapped plans to relocate into the now flooded home as he treated us to local donuts. We were advised to be cognizant of our potential levity as each person faced dire situations.
Neither Dan nor Mike are Jewish, and it felt wonderful to be supporting the entire community. When I saw their cherished, salvaged items, I wondered what would be most important to me; when I heard their optimism, I wondered if I would still see the glass as half-full.
Participating in this experience that exemplified JVC’s vision to create strong, connected communities supported through purposeful and committed volunteering was a privilege.
“Houston Strong” is more than two simple words – I loved creating a connected community with my co-volunteers, the Houston Jewish community, and those whom we served. As one eloquent participant said, “we did not change the world, yet we made a world of change to those who we served” and, I might add, for ourselves.
If you are interested in volunteer opportunities in your backyard, in Houston, or beyond, please contact JVC, a program of The Associated, at [email protected].
Karen M. Singer is chair of Jewish Volunteer Connection, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.