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October 17, 2017

AmeriCorps members called to serve Harvey survivors

The North Texas team, gathered for a group photo

For AmeriCorps members serving in North Texas this year, the meaning and value of service very quickly became a way of life. As Hurricane Harvey closed out its devastation on Houston, AmeriCorps members serving across the state of Texas were called to help survivors.

Some members serving with Reading Partners were temporarily re-positioned and took shifts supporting displaced individuals at the Dallas Convention Center mega-shelter. Others worked full days in reading centers and then reported for night shifts.

“While working at the shelter I was reminded of the power of listening with your ears open, heart warm, and judgment subsided– thus, truly seeking to see people’s humanity and letting them know they matter and you hear them,” explains Marisa Santarella, who was originally stationed as a literacy lead in Central Dallas before being called to serve in a new capacity. 

AmeriCorps members hard at work

Lisa Bracken, executive director, joined the Reading Partners North Texas team in August and quickly discovered the amazing spirit and generosity of her team and the AmeriCorps members who serve the North Texas community.

“I am humbled by the spirit of our AmeriCorps members and staff. When finding out about the opportunity to serve for disaster relief, every team member was ready to serve the community with open arms. I have now heard from city and school district leaders that our AmeriCorps team not only stepped in but provided critical support to evacuee children and families. Many helped enroll students in our schools and even rode the school buses with them to ensure the children would arrive safely. Our team is continuing to support call centers for disaster relief in addition to programming. The hard work and passion this team has shown is a true inspiration,” says Lisa Bracken.

One member, Jocelyn Salazar, also serving as a literacy lead, was temporarily reassigned to help school-age children and their families enroll in school and get the supplies they need. She recalls, “During one of my shifts at the shelter, I had the privilege to ride the bus to and from school with these newly enrolled students to ensure their safe arrival at school and with their families back at the shelter. At the same time that it was heartbreaking to see so many families displaced and unsure of when they would be able to return home, if they had a home to return to, it was also heartwarming to see that the spirit of these children was not broken. They were eager to be going to school, and some were even comfortable enough with me to tell me how their day went at school and talk about the new friends they made both at school and at the shelter. My experience at the Dallas Convention Center was eye-opening and giving direct service is definitely something I would do again given the chance.”

AmeriCorps members hard at work

Other members supported both Harvey and Irma Victims by answering crisis cleanup hotline calls. The survivors phoned in to report the damage to their homes in hopes that volunteer organizations on the ground would be able to answer the call for help.

“It was an honor to serve hurricane survivors through the Crisis Cleanup Hotline service.” says Jessica Rood, volunteer coordinator. “As an AmeriCorps member in North Texas, I wondered how I could make an impact on the hurricane relief efforts. The cleanup hotline gave us an opportunity to serve our fellow Texans, Floridians, and many others in a tangible way – by connecting them to critical resources and relief organizations already at work in their community. I felt that I was part of something much bigger than myself. When disaster strikes, it can be discouraging to focus on statistics or on all that was lost. Through the crisis cleanup hotline, we could provide hope and a listening ear to survivors.” She added:

The tenacity and resilience of survivors motivates me to keep working at the local and national level, to partner with my community, and to stand in solidarity and service with our fellow citizens.

Reading Partners North Texas staff and AmeriCorps members joined together with other members of the community during a day of service spent working with Mission Arlington. Everyone joined together to help sort school supplies and clothes for residents and those displaced by Harvey.

AmeriCorps members proud to serve

“During our service day at Mission Arlington, I was reminded that we really are better together. At first, I thought we would never finish. Through working as a team and each taking the task one step at a time, I saw the work disappear. Seeing that one person doing one small thing really can make a difference encouraged me and strengthened my appreciation of our wonderful Reading Partners volunteers,” says Morgan Torbert, volunteer coordinator.

Alongside those who have stepped in as support, the community impacted by Harvey has demonstrated enormous strength as they have pulled together to overcome the disaster. After working directly with recovery efforts, most AmeriCorps members are returning to their positions in schools with a renewed sense of purpose and heart of compassion. Whether serving disaster relief victims, our local community members, or the students in our reading centers, North Texas Reading Partners AmeriCorps members are getting things done and are honored to serve.

More photos of our North Texas team in action can be found on their Facebook page.

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