Tag Archives: Hurricane Harvey

Thriving for a Better Life After an Unexpected Storm.

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Claudia and her family were heavily impacted by Hurricane Harvey, and then to make matters worse, her husband unexpectedly left the family after the hurricane.  Due to these catastrophic events, Claudia fell behind on bills, and her family’s mental health started taking a steep decline.  She learned about Easter SealsHarvey Program from a neighbor, and she contacted our case managers for rental assistance.  Claudia received direct client assistance funding to cover rent, utilities, and basic needs- but moreover, she received support, kindness, and help with finding resources from her case manager.  Claudia got enrolled in the Food Scholarship Program and is receiving ongoing one-on-one financial coaching.  These are supports that have helped Claudia and her family get back on their feet, and to a place where they are feeling a little more in control again.  As of her most recent financial coaching session, Claudia reported that things are better- she is currently working full time, receiving healthy food twice a month, and she is seeing a positive change in children’s behavior.  She says her children are smiling more and able to focus on the things they need to focus on, for example- getting ready for school- and not worrying about what food they are going to eat that night.  Claudia is thankful for Easter Seals Greater Houston and eager to learn more from financial coaching.

 

Jenny Martinez, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Housing and Thrive Connection Houston

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The Debt We Owe Our Heros

Veterans are not a monolith. They possess a variety of talents and skills and needs after the epic storm that crashed and stalled over Houston in Aug of 2017.  Hurricane Harvey was a call to action and many Veterans responded valiantly putting themselves in harm’s way once again to assist their own families, their neighbors, and the community-at-large. 

They borrowed John-boats and utilized high clearance vehicles, expertly jimmying equipment for high water rescue. They guided the confused and grief-stricken with clear and simple instructions to pack a survival bag and abandon things that could not be transported to higher ground. They stood up distribution warehouses and procured supplies from a generous nation and efficiency and effectively pushed water bottles, diapers, and sanitation supplies to where they were needed most in this flooded city.

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 They rendered physical and psychological first aid with compassionate and comforting expertise. They applied training, insisted on teamwork, established chains of command and networked with over-saturated emergency response systems. They warned us of the various toxic exposures in water-born illnesses, insect carried diseases and predicted the rapid growth of mold between brick and sheetrock. When they faced obstacles, they engaged in creative problem solving to invent new ways to overcome.

Technology-assisted them including Easter Seals Greater Houston’s BridgingApps program. Facebook and Instagram, walked talkie apps, even Pinterest crowdsourced ideas and speed help around a city that knew we had to help ourselves, just as we knew we depended upon each other for our literal survival. Websites were born that matched people who needed help mucking and gutting with volunteers ready to get to work clearing a path to recovery. As mountains of debris piled on curbsides, rotting in the blazing sun, the next phase of the disaster began. Once the urgency subsided, and the adrenaline supply was exhausted, aspects of community-wide post-traumatic stress became evident. 

And our Veterans suffered from familiar foes of fatigue and survivor’s guilt, hypervigilance and insomnia, nightmares and relationship turmoil, numbness and self-neglect. They were triggered by the ever-present helicopter traffic that reminded them of the sounds of war. They were triggered by cramped sleeping quarters in large rooms filled with cots and chaos.  As the immediate aftermath of the disaster waxed, Veterans of the Storm named Harvey eventually went home to their own personal disasters, that were very real whether or not their own houses were damaged by the slowly receding muddy waters that had engulfed the city. 

We owe a debt of thanks to the heroes that walk among us in civilian dress. Veterans hide in plain sight but still carry the weight of duty and profound responsibility to serve and protect this nation.  We owe them more than simple gratitude.  

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ESGH was and is proud to be at the forefront with them through Harvey and our Harvey Recovery work thanks to our community, Save The Children, The Mayor’s Fund, Americares, Freddie Mac, Simmons Foundation and so many more. (https://www.eastersealshouston.org/Programs/harvey-heroes.html) AND we are proud to be able to continue offering our veterans programs and services to our current and retired military – through our #TexasVeteransandFamilyAlliance, our #mentalhealth program and so much more as well as continuing in our efforts for Harvey Housing recovery.

Amy Harkins, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Veterans Program and Harvey Recovery, Psychologist

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Recovering Together

Camp Discovery – named by putting the words Disaster and Recovery together – served families affected by Harvey and participating in counseling services through our Harvey Case Management Program.  It was a wonderful weekend retreat!  The families participated in typical camp activities like archery, horseback riding, nature, and a ropes course, as well as “team huddles” – mental health-focused break-out sessions for parents, teens, big kids, and little kids.

Harvey blog 3.JPGCamp Discovery was just one mental health support service made possible by the grants from Americares, Save the Children, and the Houston Harvey Relief Fund.  Through these grants, our team of case managers, mental health clinicians, financial stability coaches, and technology experts – impacted over 3000 families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

In late October a team of Easter Seals staff and volunteers hosted and facilitated a camp for families impacted by Hurricane Harvey at Camp For All.  Since then we have continued to serve people with disabilities and veterans through Harvey recovery and are proud to be a recipient of continued funding from The Mayor’s Fund and Enterprise / Heart so that we can continue in our efforts through housing assistance now. The experiences and memories made were more than words can describe. I will try my best to express what I witnessed and the successes I saw. Most of the families that attended our Camp Discovery shared that this was their first time having an experience like this, all together as a family unit, away from electronics, and in tune with the elements. Many shared that they were able to try things that they had never done before such as fishing, canoeing, zip-lining, horseback riding, and being able to interact and learn about new animals.harvey blog

There was awe and surprise from the very beginning.  When one family saw the retreat that would be their home for the weekend, one boy said, “This is the nicest place we’ve ever stayed!”  And the shyness of the families with each other dissipated very quickly.  By the close of the first night, just hours after having met, they were dancing together and enjoying s’mores around the campfire.

We had several little ones try out the tall rock climbing wall to later zip-line down. Two of our participants got “stuck” near the top of their goal and were ready to give up. Tears were shed and panic set in a bit as the goal to reach the top seemed unachievable and scary so high up from the ground. One mother became concerned but with support from the mental health team was able to turn her panic into words of encouragement. The mother, alongside the other campers, cheered on Jeffery and provided guidance on stabilizing his footing so that he could pull himself up to the ledge. Jeffery was successful and enthusiastically moved on to the next challenge- zip-lining back down.

One of our younger campers also struggled near the top of his rock wall experience, but he had climbed the wall alongside his mother and she was able to provide one on one support in the moment. The support staff watched in amazement at this mother’s immediate instinct to provide reassurance and support to our brave camper while also allowing him to do all the work to get himself up.

harvey blog 2Most of the weekend, I heard parents express how amazed they were about their children and their brave efforts to try out new things and face some of their fears.

The families shared how they surprised themselves with courage and willingness to try new things.

Many of the mothers commented that a win and success for the weekend was not having to cook while also enjoying all the activities with the family.

One mom, whose house had to be totally gutted, said that they had not put up any pictures yet.  She said the frames of family photos given at camp were going to be the very first frames they put up.

Another family reminded us that the camp experience brought back similar experiences from Harvey such as staying in a different place, eating food that was not “our own”, and adjusting to a different routine, but that camp opened the space to rewrite that story and make new fun memories with the family.

Erica Toskovich, LMFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Mental Health Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston 

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Harvey Recovery Report

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How has our community recovered since Hurricane Harvey took lives, homes, peace of mind, and more? We reflect back on all that we have overcome together in our Hurricane Harvey Recovery Report.

Thank you to our community for your support and effort!

Contact us for services or more information
Harvey@eastersealshouston.org
713-838-9050
www.eastersealshouston.org

Help our ongoing relief efforts continue to reach more Houstonians impacted by Hurricane Harvey by giving today. Donate here.

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At a Loss After #Harvey

This is the first time in many of years that “Ericka” just didn’t know what to do…

Being a single mother of three girls; a 23-year-old, recent college graduate, and two nine month old babies, I started to feel hopeless. After all that has happened to me, how was I going to get back up and make life normal for us again?

Things happened to me beyond my control, things I never thought would happen to me over a two-year period of time. After finding out I was pregnant with twins (2016), 3 days later I was laid off of my job as a Certified Fourth Grade Math and Science Teacher. Then the babies were born prematurely and they were hospitalized for a couple of months. Twin A had a little more problems than Twin B in regards to her growth and other challenges, something I was far from being prepared to handle. What else could possibly happen were the thoughts that were running through my head. I shouldn’t have ever thought that, because Hurricane Harvey hit and it only got worse.

Hurricane Harvey left me in the state of devastation incurring damages to my home, as well as not being able to successfully move forward with the daycare that I had found, after being laid off as a teacher and during a new job search.

Easter Seals Greater Houston and it’s Harvey Recovery Program gave me hope not only by helping me monetarily, but also with counseling and encouragement. I reached out to them this year when the twins were hospitalized for two weeks. After FEMA denied me  and my homeowner’s insurance only covered things that were damaged by the wind, I felt like giving up. But Krystle, a case manager/counselor with the Easter Seals Harvey Recovery Program, was like an angel sent by God while in the hospital with my twins. She really encouraged me, gave me hope and made me see clear that things will get better.

With the help of Easter Seals, I was able to catch up on bills that have fallen behind due to the hurricane as well as get counseling services for myself due to the events that have taken place over a course of time. Coming from being a teenage single mother and being self-sufficient, it took a great deal for me to reach out to even ask for help for my situation. However, Krystle made me feel comfortable and Easter Seals has helped me so that I may pick my life back up and move forward in a new direction.

I am extremely grateful for this organization and the mission it has set in place to help people like me.

For more information on our #Harvey Recovery Program – http://eastersealshouston.org/Programs/emergency-harvey-assistance.html

We couldn’t have done it without the help of so many! Check out our #HarveyHeroes

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Service Dogs are Veterans’ Best Friend

IMG_3718This blog post comes Marjorie who is the wife of a veteran, Tom, who participates in Easter Seals Greater Houston’s veteran’s mental health program as well as the service dog program.  Marjorie is a staff member and she and Tom are the amazing parents of two daughters. Their young girls were both adopted and born with disabilities. They are an absolutely amazing family.

Norman and Tom 1“Norman is one of Easter Seals Greater Houston’s most recent service dog pairings. He is a labrador retriever and was born on Christmas day in 2016. It wasn’t until he joined our family in February 2017 that we realized what a gift he would be to all of us.  As the wife I was ever hopeful that he would be able to help my veteran husband with managing his post traumatic stress disorder.  In June 2017, Norman became an integral part of our family when my husband, Tom,  got sick.  We picked up Norman from additional service dog training as soon as Tom got out of the hospital. Norman comforted Tom and their bond grew even more.  As the training continued, Norman became more helpful even as a puppy in training.  When Harvey hit there were many helicopters flying overhead which triggered severe PTSD and anxiety, Norman was alerting Tom as his anxiety increased.  He helped Tom manage his PTSD and helped me to be more aware of when Tom was having a hard time even in dire circumstances.  For that I am forever grateful. I do not know what the outcome would have been during this extremely stressful time without Norman.

Norman Reichard puppyWe have also had an unexpected result of having Norman in our family.  Our 5 year old daughter with special needs and also a client of Easter Seals has a tendency to “wander off”.  Norman, as apparently his secondary job, will alert us immediately if she goes too far.   He never barks unless she has gone beyond a boundary that he seems to know instinctively.

Norman and Tom 2In November, Norman became a certified service dog having completed all his training.  He and Tom are a true team now.  You will not see Tom without Norman.   I will forever be grateful for Easter Seals Greater Houston giving my husband more freedom from his PTSD symptoms and for his help with our daughter as well.”

Marjorie, Wife of Veteran in Veteran’s Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Chaos and Trauma for a Family with a Child with Special Needs

reat_familykevinjohnson-4.jpgThe following story was written by BridgingApps’ Co-Founder, Cristen. Cristen and her son Vincent, who has special needs, were Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Walk With Me 2017 Ambassadors and have been dear friends of Easter Seals Greater Houston for years. Cristen graciously shared her story to show how having a loved one with a disability compounded the difficulty and stress faced during Hurricane Harvey.

 

Our house was built in 1955 and has never flooded. We typically have a modest hurricane and emergency kit prepared during Hurricane season. During Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike, I evacuated with both my sons, while my husband stayed to prepare and salvage the house.  As Harvey moved closer, we decided that this time we would not evacuate, but would shelter in place.

You see, my 14 year old son, Vincent, who has Down syndrome, a visualVincent-and-Cristen impairment and extreme sensory issues, generally is a good traveler, but sometimes he has difficulties with transitions. As he has gotten older, he has also gotten more opinionated, making an evacuation less desirable. This time, I made sure that we had enough medications, water and food.

However, we were not prepared for the amount of rain that kept coming and coming. We lost power in the middle of the night on Saturday. Our home is located 3 blocks from Brays Bayou, and we watched the water rise, then crest, then continue to rise on our street, and then in our yard. Most of the homes in our neighborhood are one story homes, and we could see our neighbors begin to flood. The water came into our garage, and we thought it was not long before it would come into our home. We decided to evacuate our home and go to a neighbor that was higher two blocks away.

In the span of about 30 minutes with zero planning, we threw important papers, picture albums and some clothing into our attic. We scrambled to get all of Vincent’s medications, shoes with orthotics, two pairs of different prescription glasses, incontinence supplies, and two days’ worth of clothing into backpacks and garbage bags. We attempted to save his $1500 adaptive stroller by throwing it on top of our car, because we knew it would take forever to get approval for another one.

My 17 year old son Martin volunteered to carry my 80 pound son Vincent to our neighbor’s house. My husband and I carried everything else. It was a challenge to explain to Vincent, who has a cognitive disability, that we needed to put on his raincoat and walk out in the pouring rain into water that was nearly waist deep on his brother’s back. My goal was to do it in a lighthearted way, but my voice broke, and it became impossible. Tears were streaming down my face, so I was glad for the rain to camouflage this awful fear in front of my children.

As we plunged into the cold water, it was amazing how small things like the sidewalk, bricks, tree roots, curbs and other small obstacles became huge obstacles, causing Martin to stumble, trip, and nearly drop Vincent multiple times. The truth is that if they fell and he went under water, the current was so strong, I am not sure that we would have found him.  It was hard for Vincent to see out of his glasses with the rain coming down, and it must have been terrifying for him. His preferred spot in life is on the floor, as it is predictable, steady and safe.

Martin had to rest, so we got to the front porch of a house at the intersection of our street. As we rested there, we saw people chest high in water carrying their dog. We had no idea where they were trying to go, and I am not sure they did either. At that moment, we saw a kayak two houses away. My husband got their attention, and it turns out they a couple in their 70s and offered to take us one by one to our friend on the next block who was on higher ground.  It was a given that Vincent would go first, so I had to explain to him that he needed to get into a “special boat” with complete strangers to get to our friend Carolyn’s house. As we maneuvered him into the unsteady kayak, he slowly sat on the lap of a woman named Diane. I kissed him and told him that I would see him in a few minutes. I simply could not believe how strong the current was, swiftly rushing towards Brays Bayou, as the kayak had to navigate across the intersection with my most vulnerable child.  I watched helplessly and had to trust that he would be ok.

It was at that moment that I broke down and had what I imagine was a FULL ON panic attack. I was unable to breathe and nearly fell down. My sweet husband Daniel, thought I was having an asthma attack and asked where my inhaler was.  In the pouring rain, in the middle of a swift river of water I wanted to smack him for not realizing that I was having a PANIC attack, not an asthma attack.

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It seemed like FOREVER when the kayak returned reporting that they had safely deposited Vincent at our friend Carolyn’s house.  One by one the rest of us were ferried to her house, where we waited out the rest of the day and night of continuous rain and no power.

On Monday, when the water had receded enough, we returned to our house and watched the news that the forecast showed nothing but rain. Though Brays Bayou had gone down its banks a bit, with the power back on in our house, the weather reports were nothing but rain and prediction that Brays was going to crest again.  We immediately decided to evacuate a second time to another friend’s house about 2 miles north of our home. This decision was based completely on the best place for Vincent. We determined where we would go based on which friends of ours had not flooded yet, did not have a cat (allergies), and had enough room where Vincent could have his own space because of his sensory issues.

We returned to our house on Wednesday to begin the clean-up and on Saturday had to be evacuated AGAIN because of a bad gas leak in our yard.  We hadn’t even unpacked from the 2nd evacuation, so it seemed to be easier than the other two, but we as a family were nearly at a breaking point emotionally.  Vincent’s daily schedule is predictable, planned out and communicated to him to reduce his anxiety. The previous 7 days had been everything but predictable. It was emotional, stressful, unpredictable, and frustrating.  For most families dealing with this hurricane was horrific, but for our family with a child who has cognitive and sensory issues, it was tremendously difficult.  Luckily our house sustained only minor damage, but the toll it has taken on our whole family will take weeks to recover.  It has changed the way I will prepare for disasters, and it will change forever the way that we discuss it with our children.

Cristen Reat, Parent and BridgingApps Co-Founder, Easter Seals Greater Houston

As of today, thousands have been begun to receive direct client services as well as clothing, medical equipment, and assistance from Easter Seals Greater Houston. These families have been through a major trauma; please donate to help us meet their needs.If you or someone you know needs assistance, please contact us at Harvey@eastersealshouston.org. If you or your company would like to partner with Easter Seals, please contact us at Info@eastersealshouston.org.

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