Student volunteers rise to challenge in Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, thousands of volunteers did not hesitate to assist family, friends, neighbors and even strangers who needed help recovering.

Victoria Mitre, fourth-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine, was no exception. Mitre, who was in The Woodlands at the time, felt an urge to help when flooding began to impact Ben Taub Hospital.

“I think it really hit home for me when Ben Taub was preparing to evacuate patients. I felt like I needed to do something,” Mitre said. “I was in my parents’ house and knew I wouldn’t be able to return to Houston for days. I wanted to start getting Baylor students organized because I knew once the storm settled, we’d have a lot of people who wanted to volunteer.”

Mitre started a Facebook group with the goal of organizing student volunteer efforts. Within one day, more than 300 Baylor students and residents had joined.

“As soon as the water started receding, people started saying, ‘OK, I’m going to volunteer at George R. Brown. Who wants to come?’ Everybody was sharing the most up-to-date information about donation needs and volunteer opportunities,” Mitre said.

From left: Caeli Barker, Sean White, Neshia Montgomery (homeowner and Baylor staff member), Kinsey Lance, Angelina Romasanta and Conor Hess.

After the group was created, Mitre contacted Dr. Joseph Kass, associate dean of student affairs at Baylor, and Dr. Clay Goodman, associate dean for undergraduate medical education, to coordinate efforts with College leadership.

“The storm had barely passed and students were already trying to figure out ways to help the community rebuild,” Kass said. “By having a coordinated effort, we were able to help those who needed it at both the College and in the greater Houston community.”

Mitre says with the help of College leadership, students were able to prioritize and come up with a strategy for relief efforts.

“It says a lot about how approachable our deans are. From day one we were included in the conversation with Baylor administration and leadership,” she said.

Once the waters began to recede across the city, the cleanup efforts began. Many members of the Baylor community were impacted by flooding, and students sought ways to help. Baylor Student Senate leaders George Polson, Emilie Warren, and Kristin Pascoe helped delegate student volunteer responsibilities.

“We started reaching out to Baylor faculty, staff, and students to see if anybody needed help cleaning their houses. I worked closely with MS4 Class President Justin Cardenas and Assistant Director of Communications Dipali Pathak to assign volunteer groups to affected families,” Mitre said. “I couldn’t have done this without the help of our compassionate student leaders.”

One faculty member affected by the storm was Dr. Martha Mims, professor and chief of medicine-hematology and oncology at Baylor.

“We accomplished in one day what it would have taken me two weeks to do by myself,” Mims said. “Words cannot express our gratitude for this help as we try to put our life back together.”

So far, 45 homes belonging to Baylor faculty, staff, students and neighbors have been cleaned by groups of 5-10 student volunteers.

“Five extra people working during the afternoon makes a huge difference for these families. The volunteers were amazing,” Mitre said. “When I got a request that a home needed help, it never took me more than 30 minutes to get students to say ‘I will be there.’ It speaks to their willingness and desire to help.”

Kass says the values that motivated students to attend medical school were key to their participation in Harvey relief efforts.

“To see hundreds of students come together to help others in a time of need is wonderful. It inspired faith in this next generation of physicians that they are motivated by altruism,” Kass said.

Mitre says student volunteers will continue to help as community needs evolve.

“The hope for me is to continue to provide services that families need as their needs progress. Harvey has changed people’s lives and we want to be there for every step of the healing process.”

View photos from student volunteer home cleanup projects in the gallery below.

-By Nicole Blanton

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