My volunteer experience: finding a sense of community in a city of thousands

Being from a small town in west Texas, the only flooding I’ve experienced was a hot summer day when the neighbor’s above ground pool ripped open and all the water gushed out into the yard.  I couldn’t even fathom the impact of a real flood that could damage your home or soak everything you owned in water, but I saw it first hand last week.

I was standing in a community that will forever define time as “before the flood” and “after the flood.”

Gathered around under a small tent at the edge of an Onion Creek neighborhood, I joined other Hands On Central Texas volunteers as we headed to our first location of the shift – we were volunteering to clean up homes affected by the Halloween flooding.

Walking down the streets of the neighborhood, I was just shocked by what water can do:  vehicles looked like they had been an accident with an 18-wheeler and huge trees were bent over and on top of homes. I was standing in a community that will forever define time as “before the flood” and “after the flood.”

I noticed a woman carring single items out of her house and watched her go back in to get more repeatedly, so I asked if she could use our help. She agreed to have a few people help – but nothing could prepare me for what I was about see.

As we walked down hallway, you could see the line on the wall where the water had risen, and as we walked into the living room; it was like nature had made a mud pie with everything in her home.  What used to be the heart of her home was now 2 feet of mud, magazines and furniture that had floated in from other parts of the house.

Volunteer to clean up after #ATXfloods

The homeowner quickly gave us a briefing of what she wanted to keep and what could be trashed.  Three of us started digging through the muck while the other guys went on a rotating cycle of taking the trash bins to the dumpster – after three hours, the living room was finally complete.

An estimated 10,000 volunteers are needed to support  the relief efforts before the end of the year – you can sign up to take a shift and help our neighbors today or make a gift to support long-term efforts.

To everyone else in Austin, the day I spent hours cleaning this home was just another Tuesday but to the people in the Onion Creek Area, it was another day of clean up and demolition after the flood. And for this girl from a small town, it was time to lend a helping hand.

I found myself surrounded with people from across the country stepping out of their daily routine to help strangers and rebuild a community.

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