So, I know this blog is supposed to be for my MBA journey, but I wanted to post about this….
On August 25th, 2017, Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall over the Texas Gulf Coast and proceeded to wreak havoc upon everyone and everything in its path. Never would I have thought that something so slow moving could rip families apart, destroy homes, slash livelihoods, and cause billions in damage. Just the thought of the vastness of the storm’s devastation makes me cringe and well up in tears.
On the day of Project BTHO, I remember so vividly walking into a home in Katy, Texas that had been flooded and taking a nose scrunching whiff of the black mold that was now growing within the home’s walls. The homeowner, a middle age women, told me about her and her family’s dramatic water evacuation. They thought they could whether the storm, but they thought wrong she explained. She walked me through several gutted rooms pointing at the thousands of dollars in damage. Eventually we came upon a stack of four cardboard boxes, those boxes contained all of their belongings that had weathered the storm. The thought that a 2000+ square foot house could be reduced to four boxes was almost unfathomable. She opened one of the boxes and reached for a broken picture frame that contained the photograph of a beautiful golden retriever. She told me the pooch’s name was Benny and she had been the family’s dog of 13 years. She told me how friendly Benny was and how he hated playing fetch. Then she told me Benny was one of many victims of Hurricane Harvey. I didn’t know what to say, but she continued on with showing me pictures of her family. At that moment, I knew that everything that we were doing was worth it. As much as I wanted to be able to bring Benny back to her, I knew I couldn’t, but I could at least bring her piece of mind by providing free labor to aid in the process of mending her home.
As I write this, we are coming upon the one year anniversary of Harvey’s land fall and I felt the need to sit down and write about my journey since I first heard of the storm. I want to write this because I’m trying to find a way to reflect upon the emotions I felt when thousands upon thousands of people contributed to BTHOharvey. How immensely proud I felt to be a part of something so much bigger than me and how almost relieving it felt to make an impact.
When I first heard of Harvey, I was about to be a senior at Texas A&M University and I was on vacation in Montana. We were due to return from Montana after Harvey’s predicted landfall. At the time, Harvey was just a tropical storm with an unpredictable path. However, as the hours crawled on and we kept an eye on the radar, it became apparent that Harvey was gaining strength and we had to fly back before landfall or we wouldn’t be able to fly back at all. So we changed our flights and our flights were amongst the last to make it into Houston before the airports were shutdown.
My parents live in Katy, Texas and I planned to visit them upon my return but they told me to drive straight to my house in College Station (home of Texas A&M University), about an hour Northwest of Houston, so that I would be further away from the storm. I told them to drive to College Station and stay with me, but they said they were going to hunker down and watch the house. I remember driving and looking up and seeing the sun, thinking that the next time I would see it would be after Harvey and I was right. I just had no idea how much my life would be flipped by that time.
When I arrived in College Station, I turned on my TV and kept it permanently on the Weather Channel. The Weather forecasters began urging Texans to take cover as Harvey continued to exceed and astonish previous predictions. Eventually, I decided to leave my home and stay with my boyfriend at the time who lived in a safer apartment. Before permanently taking shelter, we went grocery shopping and saw that the grocery store was picked over. Not only was Harvey’s arrival imminent but it was also move-in week at Texas A&M since the fall semester was about to start, thus massively depleting all groceries. All the preparation felt excessive just because I would have never have thought a natural event like a hurricane could impact me in a place like Texas. However, the Texans that I knew that had been through Hurricane Ike in 2008 begged to differ and I listened. After bunking up in the apartment, the rain started and it didn’t stop for the next four days.
Over the course of those few days, Harvey not only stalled over the city of Houston but also went back out to the Gulf then came back for more. It just wouldn’t end. By the second day of the storm, Texas A&M had cancelled the first few days of classes. The TV in the apartment was permanently on the news and the impact became continuously grimmer. Slowly aerial shots of rescue efforts, pictures of flooded homes, voice accounts of the damages, and pictures of families and animals floating on pieces of wood down streets were aired to the public and to put it simply, it was surreal. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to the city I called home.
Looking out the window of the apartment, I could see wakes coming off of cars as they attempted to navigate a usually busy avenue. Meanwhile, it was becoming apparent that the mess of the storm was going to be in Houston, amongst several other Texas Gulf Coast cities. College Station was going to be, besides some minor flooding, spared. However, Katy, Texas (20 minutes west of Houston) was not so lucky and that’s where my parents were residing.
My brother, who lived in San Marcos (they only had some rain), and I continuously called my parents to check in. Fortunately, despite the street being flooded and being unable to travel, they were safe and our home was untouched. They were hunkered down and doing fine, but that doesn’t stop a daughter from stress.
When I’m stressed, I work out so I went to the apartment’s gym. As I ran on a treadmill, a thought came across my mind. This thought eventually expanded from an idea to my entire life. My trail of thought went as follows: every year, Texas A&M hosts a massive community service project called the Big Event. During the event 20,000+ students are split into groups and sent to hundreds of locations throughout the local Bryan/College Station community. At these locations, the student groups perform task that range from raking lawns to painting houses. It’s basically Texas A&M’s way of thanking the community for putting up with its students throughout the years. So my thought was why not coordinate an event similar to this, but instead of having it in College Station, let’s do it in the areas that were impacted by Harvey. It was apparent volunteer help was going to be needed so it was just one way to make an impact. So I went to Twitter and said:
“All of @TAMU should coordinate a Big Event type relief effort to help those locally affected by Harvey in the coming weeks”
As soon as I posted the tweet, I started getting hundreds of positive interactions from Aggie Twitter and they all said “yes lets do it!!” and so I thought “Why not get this thing going?”. So I tweeted in response to my original tweet:
“Please DM me if you're a student leader of an org. at TAMU so I can add you to the GroupMe that's being created. PLEASE RETWEET”
I figured the quickest way to rally the 60,000+ students of Texas A&M was through its vast student organization network. And just like the first tweet, the second one went viral and soon enough the groupme that I created had 150 members that came from 200+ student organizations that represented tens of thousands of students. And it was complete chaos. Everyone wanted to help and every single person had an idea on how to do it. Through the chaos of are yet-to-be organized student movement, it was becoming apparent that the aggie core value of selfless service was our driving force and we had the capability to help thousands – if only we could be organized. So, I called one of my friends, Austin, former president of the Quidditch team, member of ATO and part of the groupme, and said “what the hell should we do with all of this?” and he suggested that we should rally the core leaders and meet. So another groupme was created that contained the most gung-ho student leaders of the larger groupme – there was about 15 of us.
While this lead team was being formed, the larger groupme was discussing the name for our relief campaign and we eventually fell upon the name ‘Beat the Hell Out of Harvey’. For those of you reading this who aren’t Aggies, when Texas A&M plays another university in an athletic event, we always say “Beat the Hell Out of ___ [insert opposing school’s name]”. Harvey was greater than any opponent we had ever faced and thus, BTHOharvey was born.
As Harvey continued to rage on, the first meeting of the BTHOharvey lead team commenced, and we met at Austin’s house. The meeting lasted six hours and this was the first of many long meetings. The room was filled with familiar faces, like Austin and Dalton, faces I kind of recognized from Aggie twitter, like Stacey and Chris, and new faces, like Megan and Corey. If I remember correctly, there was about 10 of us at the meeting. Since we were all student leaders (I was also the Vice President of the Obstacle Course Racing Team – totally obscure, I know), we had large networks and resource pools to utilize at the university.
Check out this article to see BTHOharvey’s first news article: http://www.thebatt.com/news/aggies-unite-to-help-with-hurricane-relief-efforts/article_5008fe52-8c59-11e7-acef-e35681c76127.html
At that first meeting, we decided that although our Big Event was our long term goal, a supply drive and monetary fundraiser were our immediate needs. We established supply drop off locations, started the planning of a massive supply rally, and discussed monetary fundraising avenues. We made social media accounts for BTHOharvey and the lovely Zoe made a ton of graphics to help us with marketing. And just like that, we were off to the races.
Over the course of the next week, Hurricane Harvey finally departed the Texas coast and its impact was becoming better known. Our team expanded and continued to meet for long hours every night. We started to make the move towards becoming a student organization and started establishing roles for everyone on the team. I became the President and Co-Founder of BTHOharvey. We created a Red Cross monetary fund, coordinated a massive supply drive, coordinated fundraising events, planned a blood drive, and continued our social media relief efforts. It’s safe to say that none of us slept that week. It was complete chaos, but results were slowly starting to be apparent. At the end of this post, I have listed all of the news articles/videos that covered our journey.
I have to give it up to Texas A&M Academic Affairs and Athletics though, they appointed our campaign as Texas A&M’s official response to Hurricane Harvey and gave us full access to its resources. So, just one week after Harvey made landfall, the sun finally broke and we had our massive supply rally that we had planned and many of our lives were changed forever. I’m serious, I’m not the same person as I was before Harvey.
Now, so much happened in the months that proceeded Harvey and this post would become a book if I went into detail about it, so I created this timeline of highlights:
August 26th – BTHOharvey was formed
August 27th – Aggieland Outfitters released their BTHOharvey t-shirts and officially partnered with our campaign
August 28th – Creation of BTHOharvey social media. Hundreds of requests to help and for help poured in. On-campus week long supply drive launched.
September 1st – Hosted an informational for student org leaders, had over 100 in attendance. Officially launched T-Shirt campaign in conjunction with C.C. Creations, Maroon Out, and Texas A&M Athletics.
September 2nd – Supply Send Off – Collected five eighteen-wheelers of supplies that were sent to impacted communities across Texas. Reached $30,000 in funds raised.
September 3rd – Von Miller is officially announced as the “Team Captain” of BTHOharvey and wears our shirt to the TAMU v. UCLA football game
September 4th – Hosted BTHOharvey Blood Drive and reached max capacity for donations
September 4th – Vo Miller donates $100,000 to campaign
September 8th – Announced BTHOirma campaign and renamed student group to Built To Help Others (BTHO)
September 10th – Reached 30,000 T-shirts sold and “Relief Out”-ed Kyle Field for that football game
September 11th – Joined forces with One America Appeal and Texas A&M for monetary fund efforts
September 15th – Hosted Boxes for Bags corn-hole tournament
September 21st – Started Aggies 4 Mexico campaign in wake of the devastating earthquakes in Mexico
September 21st – Reached the $300,000 mark in funds raised
October 4th – Announcement of Deep From The Heart: One America Appeal Concert at Texas A&M’s Reed Arena with special guests all the former living presidents (holy crap – right?)
October 8th – BTHO Lead Team members and Von Miller serve as the Honorary Captains of the TAMU football game against Rival Alabama. Host Von Miller and Tony Jerrod-Eddie at BTHO tailgate
October 16th – BTHO announces our Big Event in Houston – Project BTHO
October 21st – Deep The Heart Concert with former living presidents and Lady Gaga (among many other great artists) takes place and raises millions of dollars for the One America Appeal monetary fund. BTHO serves as lead team
November 1st – Astros win World Series!!! This isn’t BTHO related (I wish), but how dope is that?
December 2nd – Project BTHO, my original goal, finally happens and hundreds of Aggies are bussed to Houston for a Saturday of relief work
And that’s just an outline of everything that happened in the first 3 months after Hurricane Harvey. All together, the lead team, volunteers, and TAMU faculty put thousands of hours of work into making the BTHOharvey a grand success. I was honored to lead this charge, but I am just one person and could only have pulled off a fraction of a percentage of this on my own.
Up to this date, the BTHOharvey campaign has raised nearly a half million dollars, accrued five eighteen wheelers of supplies, and deployed hundred of volunteers to impacted areas of Texas. It’s only a small dent of relief in the damage, but the positive impact is visible and I could not be prouder of the Aggie network. I attended Texas A&M because I wanted a school that felt like a family and I got more than that. I got a school that puts no limits on the term ‘family’ – Aggies treat everyone, Aggie network or not, like family and that showed when helping with the relief effort.
In a couple of weeks, Built to Help Others will make its debut as an official student organization at Texas A&M under the wonderful command of Schuyler, Megan, and Dalton. BTHO has been dubbed the official disaster relief organization of Texas A&M and seeks to continue to help Harvey victims and also help those impacted by disasters in Texas and throughout the world. If you are TAMU student reading this or you know one, please encourage them to join our organization at TAMU Open House and take part in something that is greater than themselves. You never know when the organization will need to jump into action and joining and learning now can help Aggies to better aid those impacted by future disasters.
I never viewed myself as the philanthropic type of person. In fact, I know I can be insensitive and self-centered. This was even more so before Harvey hit. But now, after seeing the devastation first hand, I know every person, is capable over reaching out a helping hand, even myself. Being the founder of a massive relief movement fell into my lap, but the events that transpired after that were accomplished thanks to the team of wonderful people who worked day and night to make things happen for strangers. I mean seriously, a lot of our lead team members and volunteers were full-time students with jobs and they stretched themselves thin to serve others. After graduating from TAMU, I hope the story of BTHOharvey helps continue the legacy of selfless service.
Unfortunately, even as we approach the one year anniversary, the impacts of Hurricane Harvey still live on. Families, like the owners of Benny, still walk into houses that are no longer their homes. Kids go to schools that have black mold in the walls because of the flooding. Businesses never returned because it was too expensive to fix. People still need help. But, BTHO will continue their work, along with groups like Team Rubicon and hopefully, sooner than later, the impacts of Harvey will be just a memory.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to any Hurricane Harvey relief effort.