To learn more about All Hands Volunteers, including their response work in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, visit www.hands.org. Photo credit: Julia Schemmer / HS Insider.
University of California

One year later: Reflections from an All Hands disaster relief volunteer

One year ago, I left my beloved habitat of palm trees and In N Out Burger to venture to Denham Springs, La. to repair flood-damaged homes with All Hands Volunteers, a volunteer-powered disaster relief organization. The flood was swiftly labeled as the second major natural disaster in the United States following Tropical Storm Sandy, and all it took was a look outside to see mountains of people’s possessions in their backyards to be convinced of its severity.

Prior to my arrival on the project, I never operated power tools. Construction was a foreign language to me, and you could imagine my shock when my first day of work consisted of mucking and gutting a home damaged by six feet of water. It was all new to me, and I couldn’t be more excited to dive in.

Sometimes, when you’re faced with unfamiliar situations, the newness of it can intimidate you so severely that you forget the vitality of the work you’re immersed in. Yet, for me, I found myself enthralled with volunteering, and soon as I came home, I planned when I could soon return.

I signed up to spend two weeks of my winter vacation back in Louisiana – only to extend it for three more weeks. I wanted more and more of the opportunity to learn new skills, meet more people, and of course, work to get individuals and families back into a dignified living environment so they can move forward in the wake of the disaster.

Out of the floodwaters came my purpose; and I knew I wanted to spend my life rooted in service and the alleviation of human suffering, in any capacity I’d be afforded.

Maybe it was each day’s unique challenges and lessons that kept me returning a year after the flood, or the empowerment that came from understanding a new trade. Perhaps the homeowners and their incredible stories of strength and survival in extraordinary circumstances is what brings me back to this place, or the incredible volunteers from all different nations and age groups that I get to work alongside every day. If I try to pinpoint one single factor that keeps me returning back to All Hands Volunteers, it diminishes the amount of intentionality and dimension that the All Hands program staff put into making a multi-faceted positive experience for everyone that comes into their doors. I traded my briefcase for a hard hat and my journal for a hammer, and my life hasn’t been the same ever since.

If you’ve ever been on the brink of deciding whether or not you should volunteer – go. Go with an open heart and a mind willing to learn and grow and ask more questions than what you thought you could conceive. Meet as many people as you can, and take the time to hear their stories of what brought them into this space. Go into it knowing that your life will be changed, and be comforted knowing you don’t need to go around the world to make a difference – sometimes the best world change will come from spending a few weeks in a tiny town in the Deep South.

To apply to volunteer on the Louisiana flood rebuild program, visit https://hodr.wufoo.com/forms/q14bnpp802i1qx7/.

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