HARI SREENIVASAN: Karen Walrond is a former engineer, an attorney, photographer and writer.
Three weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey destroyed her home in Houston. She and her family are now living with a friend, figuring out what to do next.
Tonight, Walrond shares her Humble Opinion on the best way to help storm victims, in fact, anyone who is facing a crisis.
KAREN WALROND, Hurricane Harvey Survivor: At first, it wasn’t that much, a couple of inches or so. But, by the time it was over, we had almost three feet of water sitting in our home.
My husband and I evacuated our daughter to the safety of a friend’s house early on. That’s her in the pink raincoat. But when it became apparent that we couldn’t save our home, we realized that we needed to get back to our daughter fast.
Unfortunately, by that time, most streets had flooded, so that meant wading through chest-deep water for about a mile. As we started on our way, a young woman approached us, and told us to wait. There were three guys with a boat shuttling people to safety. So, we waited.
And while we waited, we witnessed people who were using their gifts and their skills to address specific needs, in service of others. That young girl? She lived in a second-story apartment nearby, and after watching cars continuing to drive into the dangerous floodwaters, she put on a raincoat, walked out into the storm, and for two days waved cars away from the deep water.
The three young men who took us to our friend had taken their bass boat out of storage and opened their own ferry service to help. And a restaurant owner who showed up to check on his cafe, instead of returning to the security of his home, opened his restaurant to the volunteers, giving them free coffee and water and a place to warm up.
Each of these people took a moment to consider what they had to offer, and then, without hesitation, simply helped. But they helped with specificity.
It’s human nature to ask, how can I help when someone is in a difficult situation. It’s admittedly something I have said countless times in the past. But the truth is that, when people offered, I was in crisis, and couldn’t even begin to think about what I might need, far less consider what they might have to give.
More powerful have been the offers from people who have been specific, like the friend with impeccable organizational skills who offered to be a single point of contact between us and friends who wanted to donate clothing and tools to help deal with the damage to our house, or chef friends who have offered us hot meals at the end of long days of mucking out our house.
They have taught me that specific is more meaningful than general every time.
People face crises all the time. Heartbreak, grief and loss, these are facts of life. So, I would challenge us all, when we’re struck by the need to help a friend going through a difficult time, that, instead of asking, how can I help, let’s mine our own gifts, talents and skills that we have been entrusted with, and instead declare: I can help you, and here’s how.