Regis volunteers spend spring break helping those still recovering from Hurricane Harvey

Allie Smith, a freshman molecular biology and genetics major from Palisade, Colorado, was one of 10 students to use their spring break to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in Houston. The August 2017 storm killed more than 80 people, destroyed roughly 185,000 homes and affected 13 million people. As of the March 2018 Regis service trip, thousands of Houston residents remained in shelters and worse, many others were still in their homes despite inhabitable conditions. This is her story.

When Harvey hit that day, I remember watching video of the floods and worrying about the safety of friends in Texas. I felt helpless. Later that fall I received an email about an opportunity to help with the recovery efforts — to help people — it was a no brainer. It was easy to decide what I wanted to do for spring break.

I joined the Regis hurricane relief trip as a student leader, although being a freshman student leader was intimidating, I was prepared to do whatever was needed to help run the mission smoothly. I’ve participated in many service projects — helping with home rebuilds, rainforest restoration in Costa Rica and working in countless soup kitchens. But this trip would be different. Despite my determined mindset and the printed facts in mind, I was not prepared for the emotions unearthed by being in the homes.

The trip was coordinated through NECHAMA, a nonprofit group that responds to natural disasters and helps with recovery efforts. NECHAMA accompanied us into the homes and introduced us to the families. It was an opportunity to hear their stories firsthand.

On the first day of service work, I was taken to the home of a small family in southwest Houston. The house was empty and gutted except for a collection of water damaged, mold-ridden baby photos left in the garage. It was one thing to read about the hurricane or see the media coverage, but it was a completely different feeling to see the damage in front of you. I felt sadness. I felt confusion. I felt sympathy.

We worked in multiple homes performing sanitation, frame support and installing drywall. These homes had water levels ranging from 18 inches to 4 feet of water during the days of the hurricane. I heard from multiple homeowners that if it weren’t for the support and work from the volunteers, that they could not afford to fix their homes themselves, therefore they and their children could have ended up homeless.

Serving among my peers and staff built a great feeling of comradery and pride. I was truly proud to be part of such a dedicated group. I believe that every member of the Regis team left with understanding, as well as a sense of fulfillment. Every individual became part of something much larger and made a significant difference in the lives of those affected by Harvey.

The experience only fuels my desire to help. This was my sixth trip out of state to volunteer and I am determined to make more — as many as possible in my remaining years at Regis to help as many communities in need as I can.