Facing Hurricane Harvey, which brought devastating winds and catastrophic flooding due to record-breaking rainfall, and leviathan storm Hurricane Irma, TFAS alumni in Texas and Florida showed their leadership skills and team spirit through helping with storm preparedness and recovery efforts in their home cities. The scope of these disasters was unprecedented in many ways, as was the generosity of those who came to the rescue with vehicles, supplies, blood donations and money to save lives and rebuild Texas, Louisiana and Florida. Three TFAS alumni in Texas and one in Miami immediately jumped in to help their fellow citizens.
Jesse “Jay” Forester (ICPES 06, AIPE 07), a Dallas-based lawyer and the District 26 representative for the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, put together a press release with colleagues informing people of the free legal aid available to disaster victims and how to obtain it. He posted it to social media, aiming to reach those in need.
The governor of Texas and our officials have been great with Harvey relief. However, the response of the citizens of Texas has been outstanding. In general, during and post Harvey, people were taking action themselves to lead relief efforts. They didn’t look around and ask for assistance from the government. It has been a true testament to a free-market society. It has been amazing to see in action. The citizens of Texas are the reason we are doing so well.”
– Lindsey Rose King (IBGA 06)
As the storm moved toward Houston, TFAS alumna and regent, Lindsey Rose King (IBGA 06), naturally grew anxious about possible damage to her home, but beyond that, she feared for the warehouse where she stored the entire inventory of her business, Mostess Box, a subscription box service for entertaining. If the warehouse flooded or the roof blew off, she could lose everything. When she discovered her business had survived, she decided to help her fellow Houstonians how she could, donating all proceeds from the next few days of sales to the Houston Food Bank. Further, she encouraged friends, followers and clients to make their own donations to the Red Cross for aid efforts.
“A dry home and food on the table. Something many of us take for granted,” she wrote on Mostess social media platforms. “Hurricane Harvey took this away for so many people, but we are #HoustonStrong. We’re donating 100% of proceeds from our Mostess Market to the Houston Food Bank for Hurricane Harvey Relief.”
Speaking recently with TFAS staff, King made the point that there is still more work for Houstonians to do. The services and infrastructure of Houston also suffered enormous damage, meaning that even the homes and businesses that survived were profoundly affected. Many streets and neighborhoods are piled with debris. Mail and delivery services are disrupted, with profound implications for businesses that rely on shipping, such as Mostess. The business King contracted to pack and ship her boxes was crippled by the storm and was no longer able to handle her orders. Not to be deterred, King and the Mostess staff have rolled up their sleeves and taken care of packing and shipping all Mostess orders themselves since the storm – a large undertaking for the growing business.
“The city has been really resilient,” King said. “The governor of Texas and our officials have been great with Harvey relief. However, the response of the citizens of Texas has been outstanding. In general, during and post Harvey, people were taking action themselves to lead relief efforts. They didn’t look around and ask for assistance from the government. It has been a true testament to a free-market society. It has been amazing to see in action. The citizens of Texas are the reason we are doing so well.”
Jonathan “Jay” Goossen (IBGA 03), a TFAS alumnus and former employee, gave an account to TFAS staff of what he saw on the ground in the hard-hit city. “Thankfully most of my family and friends weathered the storm with no significant damage or issues,” he said. “Sadly, I can’t say the same for the majority of people in Houston.”
Goossen did not forget those Houstonians who had lost everything, though. He has spent his free time since the storm volunteering at relief centers and plans to continue doing so in the coming weeks and months, until his city is back on its feet. He marvels that his is the common response and that so many people from all walks of life are pitching in to help their neighbors recover.
It’s been amazing to see how much the community has come together to help those in need.
– Jay Goossen (IBGA 03)
When Hurricane Irma plowed through the Caribbean and headed toward Miami, Ariel Zirulnick (IPJ 08), the executive editor of The New Tropic, an online local news startup and the flagship publication of the Whereby.us online media and technology group, turned the magazine into a community resource for practical storm information. Through the magazine’s website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms, and Zirulnick’s and her teammates’ own personal social media platforms, The New Tropic gathered and distributed information on the storm’s course, evacuation zones and storm preparedness.
While the legacy news sources – the Miami Herald and the local NPR affiliate, WLRN radio – were on the ground producing news, and the local and state government websites were publishing essential information and recommendations, Zirulnick and her team saw a gap in coverage that their publication could fill. Someone needed to collect and interpret government information into actionable steps, and provide a source for detailed information on how to prepare for, weather and recover from the storm. Readers needed real-time information on meeting their immediate needs – and also a calm voice to relieve their anxieties when they felt trapped. Zirulnick and The New Tropic stepped into the gap. The whole team pitched in to assemble daily newsletters with everything citizens needed to know that day and invited readers to send questions to receive essential, up-to-the-minute information on which shelters still had space, which gas stations had fuel and the status of traffic on evacuation routes.
“Have you got bottled water, canned food, flashlights and walkie talkies? Do you know what else you need to be prepared? Here’s a breakdown of what you need to ride out the storm and stay safe in the days after,” read one Facebook post on The New Tropic, linking to a page of collected resources for storm preparedness.
The Twitter feed linked to radar tracking of the storm, information on how to cope with power outages, reminders of traffic safety in case of traffic light outages and much more. The Instagram feed showed curfew information and a photo of a downed crane with a message to keep away. Despite Instagram’s typical use as a platform for beautiful photos and videos, Zirulnick and her team realized it was the platform where Miami residents were engaging the most, so they redoubled their efforts to update the conversations happening there quickly. Each post accumulated a long list of questions and answers, as nervous residents tried to locate dwindling resources and The New Tropic – and fellow residents – answered them one by one.
As the storm hit, Zirulnick wrote on her personal Facebook page, “Back in Miami. Apartment prepped. Now back online until I can’t be. How can The New Tropic help y’all out?” A link led readers to The New Tropic’s Facebook feed of storm information. The product team also created an interactive map on the website for readers to view and fill in with their resource finds. After the storm, The New Tropic updated the map to share hazard spots around the city and places where residents could donate funds or volunteer their time for recovery efforts. The New Tropic group also donated advertising space to aid organizations seeking volunteers or resources.
We’re all capable of accomplishing feats of goodness, both ordinary and extraordinary.
– Eric Tanenblatt (ICPES 87)
Zirulnick’s and her team’s efforts to use The New Tropic as a way to gather and amplify essential information did not go unnoticed online. A Twitter follower, @LizzyHazeltine, wrote, “I admire The New Tropic’s hurricane coverage that’s aimed at helping folks when it’s scary as all hell.” She declared, “That’s stellar local media in a nutshell.” Another, using the handle @thensim0nsaid, stated, “Coverage by The New Tropic of Hurricane Irma is really a case study in local journalism as service during crises.” On Facebook, a user named Michael C Fernandez commented, “I want to give y’all a shout-out for what you guys were doing before, during and after Irma. Your team has been providing timely, relevant content to help answer any of the questions that arise out of a hurricane. Thank you for the work you do! Props to Ariel and the rest of the team.”
TFAS trustee and alumnus, Eric Tanenblatt (ICPES 87), a partner at Dentons and a former vice chair of the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, wrote an editorial in The Huffington Post in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. In it, he highlighted the heroic efforts of ordinary people who streamed into Houston in boats to rescue stranded citizens, and encouraged readers to participate in the recovery efforts themselves. He then made the point that companies as well as individuals can “be a hero to someone” by donating time, talent and funds to better their communities. “The tenderness demonstrated by the heroes of Hurricane Harvey,” he wrote, “ordinary people with a unique resource that met the call of an extraordinary challenge, proves that you needn’t immense wealth to help others, only a willingness.”
“We’re all capable of accomplishing feats of goodness,” he continued, “both ordinary and extraordinary. If just one person with a boat could save a hundred stranded flood victims, imagine the magnifier effect of a mid-sized business serving the communities in which it operates.” He pointed out that many corporations have volunteerism programs that allow employees to take time off each week specifically to volunteer and that others, such as The Home Depot, have used their store space and products to provide tool-competency training to at-risk youth. Tanenblatt concluded by saying that small companies, too, can make an impact in their communities – even without the deep pockets of larger corporations – by creatively using their people and resources. He ended by calling on businesses of all sizes to find ways to leverage their resources to better their communities.
The staff, faculty, boards, alumni and friends of TFAS offer our heartfelt sympathies to those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and our prayers for the families of those lost. We encourage our readers to consider donating time, talents and funds to aid those in the affected regions.
We, also, strive to teach TFAS students the importance of serving their communities through the ethical leadership emphasis in our programs and, in a more targeted way, in our Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Service (IPVS), a U.S. summer program that educates students about the American traditions of philanthropy and individual responsibility, teaching them that individual service and philanthropy are the truly American response to those in need. For more, information on the program, please visit the IPVS program page.