Kymmie Cartledge, Team Leader, City Year Columbia

Having lived in Columbia, South Carolina my entire life, a few inches of snow and a few fallen trees from a severe thunderstorm is about the extent of my experience with Mother Nature. The idea of a catastrophic flood seemed highly unlikely so I didn’t take meteorologists on TV seriously when they said we could possibly experience 4 months’ worth of rain over the course of a few days.  

I should have listened. morning of October 4, I woke up to the sounds of a heavy downpour and the buzzing from my phone alerting me of a flash flood warning. I instantly jumped up to look outside, but all I saw was darkness because it was only 5:30 a.m. I quickly turned on my TV to see if there was anything on the local stations. I sat in and watched in awe as I saw streets that I’ve traveled thousands of times, submerged. I then scrolled through various social media sites and instead of seeing pictures of cute kids and funny memes, I saw post about my friends’ having to evacuate and pictures of my friends being rescued because their house flooded. I wondered, “Is this really happening?”

As the day went on, more and more questions started to run through my mind. “Is my team okay?” “Is staff team okay?” “Are the students and teachers at my school okay?” Thanks to technology, I was able to keep in contact with everyone on my team to make sure they were safe and sound. The principal at my school also reached out to our team to see how we were doing. In the face of disaster, it was comforting to know that I was a part of a City Year family that genuinely cared about one another.

After being homebound Monday and Tuesday, we resumed our service bright and early Wednesday morning with a conversation inspired by one of our City Year Founding Stories: Moccasins. My fellow AmeriCorps members and I had an open discussion about the flood and the impact of trauma. We discussed strategies that we could use to support each other and our students cope in the aftermath of the flood.

City Year Columbia through the flood

A City Year value, Service to a Cause Greater Than Self, really took on a new meaning during this time. A typical day of service shifted from morning greeting, tutoring students in writing and reviewing multiplication facts to sorting donated clothes, serving food and playing kickball with the kids at the emergency shelters. These days provided us the opportunity to immerse ourselves into the city of Columbia, connect with each other and grow stronger as a team.   

We returned back to school on the morning of October 14, ecstatic that the halls would soon be filled with students ready to learn. We were all ready to #MakeBetterHappen once more. All of the hugs and hearing “Ms. Cartledge, I missed you!” a few dozen times felt great. Having the opportunity to listen to elementary school students’ perspective of the flood was really interesting and insightful. They had plenty of stories to tell about their days out of school. After a few moments of sharing and reflection, we continued right where we left off in our studies.   

City Year Columbia supporting through the flood

Even though the city of Columbia is back to its hustle and bustle, we are still far from normal. Many have lost their homes or businesses and a few even lost their lives. At one point, the entire city was under a boil water advisory which made everyday tasks such as cooking meals and brushing our teeth complicated. Roads are still closed because they were washed away by the floodwaters. As a result, many have been tasked with finding a new route to work and the school district has had to make new routes for their buses to transport students.

 In the midst of disaster, our city has come together and has shown the true definition of southern hospitality. Everywhere you turn, someone is volunteering their time or giving donations to those in need. While it will take months for the capital city to recover from this historic flood, what I do know is that our community is resilient and we will come back stronger than we were before.

On behalf of City Year Columbia, we are truly grateful to all of the other City Year sites for their outpouring love and support during this time.  

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