PITW #173: I'm Ready. Choose Me. 

PITWs are a collection of ideas written and edited by City Year staff and AmeriCorps members. They contain pieces of collective wisdom that guide our service and serve as a reference for ways to implement our mission in our daily work.

I have only lived in Texas a year, but I already know all about the Houston and Dallas rivalry. It didn't take long to figure out that all the competition takes a backseat when our neighbors are in need. Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with a vengeance making landfall on the coast and then making its way inward to Houston. Texans, neighboring states and the world responded immediately. If there is one good thing to come out of natural disasters, endless love would be it. I have been in awe of the goodwill surrounding Southwest Texas, between J.J. Watt's fundraiser growing exponentially, the incredible amount of concern and support pouring in from other City Year sites, and volunteers coming from near and far to help our state get back on its feet. It is clear that this is not a battle the Lone Star state will fight alone.  

My favorite lines in the City Year Pledge are "to be quick to help and slow to judge" and "to serve with an open heart and an open mind." When we heard that Dallas would be opening a mega shelter at the Kay Bailey Convention Center for evacuees that were affected by Hurricane Harvey, I knew I wanted to volunteer. It didn’t take long for the call to be sent out looking for those who could help.  I emailed back immediately. I had no idea what it would entail, but I figured that after a year in middle school, I am pretty much ready for anything. It was Labor Day weekend so I had a whole extra day to be able to serve those in need. Simply put, it was wonderful. I worked the overnight shift from 7 pm at night to 7 am in the morning and then came back for an afternoon shift on Sunday. During the overnight shift, I worked in the dorms taking elderly people to the bathroom, getting new guests settled in to cots/marking down where their cot was, and talking to the policemen I was stationed with.

My favorite moment from the overnight shift was my ability to comfort the children who were affected. Around 3 am, a baby woke up screaming and crying in the middle of the night. His mom must have been so tired from their ordeal, she didn't even move. I ran over to the baby, afraid he would wake everyone up and I walked with him and rocked him back to sleep. I spend my days with 8th graders, so this was a huge change in pace. A few beds over from the baby, there was a young kid, who obviously couldn’t sleep and was playing with his fidget spinner. Those things are more valuable than cash in my school's hallways, so I guessed he was probably middle school or early high school. I went over to his cot and talked to him for over an hour. He told me all about how much he loves school, how he took care of his mom, as they were evacuating, and plans to attend college in a couple years.  

After my shift, I went home to get some rest but woke up eager to go back to the shelter. I served with six other City Year AmeriCorps Members for the afternoon shift. We were all stationed in the dorms. One of my teammates and I spent some time numbering the beds that they had to switch out, but also got a chance to visit with lots of the children that were there. We started talking to a group of little girls. They were ages 7-9, and had two little babies with them. From my experience in working in schools, one thing I have learned is that kids are kids no matter what challenges they are facing. These girls were no different. They spent the rest of the evening, showing us dances, songs, and reading books. I was given baby duty to soothe the youngest of them while the older children played around.

Around dinnertime, we were invited to sit and eat with them. Throughout my volunteer experience, I couldn't believe how matter-of-factly the kids were telling us about being evacuated by boat, helicopter, plane, and later bussed to Dallas. Right before lights out, another mom, who had seen us hanging out with kids all day came over and asked me if I would keep an eye on her sleeping kids while she went and took a shower. I will forever remember this experience and being able to lend a comforting hand while these families and kids were so far away from their normal, daily lives. I am glad that we were able to serve. I was amazed by the shelter and all the people that answered the call to help. Maybe I wasn't born in Texas, but I'm lucky to call it home. 

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