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John McMillin: After hurricanes Harvey, Irma comes hope

John McMillin • Sep 26, 2017 at 6:00 PM

With the questions we’ve recently fielded about hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I thought a share of a blog from our United Way Worldwide U.S. president Mary B. Sellers might paint a picture readers would find of interest: 

“Growing up in Florida, I’ve experienced hurricanes. Each one brings its own unique impact…I spent four days in Texas, where I witnessed the devastation up close, met with local leaders and explored how United Way Worldwide could continue to offer and facilitate support. It was an incredibly moving and somber experience – one I will never forget.

“Throughout the trip, my colleagues and I engaged with local United Ways and the communities they serve. We started our visit in Dallas where NBC’s The Today Show was filming the loading of supplies into 18-wheelers by residents. Destination: Houston. At one point during the supply drive, a high school soccer team loaded a truck with goods collected at a football game the previous Friday night. It was a reminder of how communities can be strengthened by individuals coming together to address the most pressing issues.

“Our next stop was Austin. We met with United Way of Greater Austin and learned about their 2-1-1 efforts. I listened in on a few of the phone calls, and I was inspired by the selfless spirit on the other end of the lines. On one call in particular, a neighbor – displaced herself – was expressing her concern for a family of four that was living in their car as a result of the hurricane. This woman was more concerned with her neighbors’ wellbeing than her own. And I knew in that moment that hope and resilience was alive and well. Although Harvey was a devastation, the people of Texas would prevail.

Our next stop was Houston, our base for reaching out to other affected communities. Our hotel was the destination for first-responders. It was connected to the convention center, which served as the main shelter for displaced people. We also visited Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, all areas impacted by Harvey. As we were driving to meet the staff of United Way of Beaumont and North Jefferson County, I saw the flood waters up close. There was water as far as the eye can see, and I knew that it was water where water wasn’t supposed to be. It made me wonder what was there before Harvey blanketed the community. When we arrived in Beaumont, there were piles of debris in front of every home and business. While there, I learned the community was unsure of when students could return to school. Life has been paused … and yet there is optimism.

“In Orange, we watched nonprofit partners and community members work with United Way to help those in need, even though their own homes were destroyed by Harvey. They came forward so others could move forward. That selfless spirit was clearly sparking a renewal throughout not only that community, but others like it. Whether it was in Houston, Beaumont, Orange or Port Arthur—where we met with United Way leaders to discuss their communities’ response, recovery and rebuilding efforts – hope was beginning to flourish as people began to embrace a new normal.

“Witnessing people support each other, despite what many people perceive is divisiveness in this country, reminded me that we will always find a path forward when we come together as a community. Since this trip, we’ve added our attention to areas of the Southeast U.S. and Caribbean affected by Hurricane Irma. I am confident that those communities will show the same resilience and selfless spirit I saw in Texas. Together, we will move forward. Together, we will thrive. When we Live United, anything is possible.”

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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