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Houston, We Have Big Problems

September 23, 2008
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This tornado-ravaged home in central florida is similar to what many are returning to in Texas.

Three years ago this month I joined a group of about a dozen volunteers on an emergency trip to Gulfport, Miss. We were a couple weeks behind Hurricane Katrina and traveling with an 18-wheeler loaded with supplies. The devastation was still immense as we arrived.

Our little group handed out tons of water, sports drinks, diapers, canned food, clothes, hygiene products and more. We cleared debris, cut fallen trees and placed tarps on roofs.

The trip is now a prized memory, but not because of the small dent we made in the hurricane-sized mess that was the Gulf Coast. Rather, it was seeing the selfless army of regular folks who came from every corner of our country to offer their support.

There were doctors, nurses, firemen, teachers and retailers. There were waitresses, landscapers, shop foreman, bankers and students. There were people from every background who came to simply lend a hand to those in need.

But the volunteers who inspired me the most were those doing construction work. These workers arrived early, kept coming and stayed late. Some may still be in New Orleans helping the city rebuild.

The construction trades were especially generous in response to Katrina. Most trade associations raised funds, formed response teams and encouraged their members to help.

And help they did. Plumbers, drywallers, HVAC contractors, roofers, electricians, framers, builders and every other trade descended on the Gulf Coast to bring relief. Their experience and skills provided critical leadership to the rebuilding process.

I was fortunate to be a firsthand witness to our country operating at its best. In contrast to critical media reports, I saw a spirit of service, sacrifice and gratitude that was often overwhelming. A few times our group overlapped with other volunteers offering similar help. What a great problem.

Now our eyes are fixed on Texas, Louisiana and the other states that bore the brunt of Hurricane Ike. On Wednesday, Galveston Mayor Lynda Ann Thomas announced she was seeking $2 billion in federal relief for her city alone. Who knows what the final total will be once all the impacted areas fully assess their damages?

As a nation, I wonder how we’ll respond. On one hand, the human toll is less overwhelming because people took reasonable precautions and Ike was less devastating than Katrina.

On the other hand, those without homes and basic services still number in the hundreds of thousands. Insurance won’t cover everything and the government can’t and shouldn’t meet every need. Don’t these victims deserve some of the same volunteer help we gave following Katrina?

Or perhaps the struggling economy and series of natural disasters have sapped our helping spirit. I hope not. And I hope the construction trades again provide their extremely valuable volunteer support.

If you’re in the construction trades, volunteer your time and skills, or encourage your staff to do so, to help rebuild or repair damaged homes in the Gulf Coast region. Contact your industry’s national associations to find out if they are sponsoring work teams. If you live near the impacted areas, contact your local or state organization.

You can be certain your efforts will make a difference in someone’s life.
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