Hope After Hurricane Harvey

Last week, actor and Save the Children Trustee Jennifer Garner and I visited Houston, which is recovering from Hurricane Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years.

We met many children and families affected by the storm and toured a large shelter, a local elementary school and a child care center. The school and child care center were temporarily closed due to severe flooding, displacing many students and interrupting their sense of normalcy.

Jennifer Garner, Save the Children trustee and ambassador, Mark Shriver, SVP, US Programs and Advocacy, and Jeanne-Aimee De Marrais, Senior Director for Domestic Emergencies, visit Hilliard Elementary School to meet with Principal Dr. Moultry to survey the damage done by Hurricane Harvey and distribute childcare supplies and educational materials to locals affected by the storm on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Houston, TX. (Photo by Anthony Rathbun/Save the Children via AP Images)

Yet through it all, Jennifer and I were inspired by the incredible can-do spirit we witnessed, where neighbors were helping neighbors, coming together to rebuild and stay positive through an unimaginable situation.

Hurricane Harvey damaged approximately 40 percent of child care and early education centers in the greater Houston area. Many families and children have lost their homes, and the loss of their child care center, a place many consider to be a second home, is almost equally as devastating.

We visited JoAnn’s Day Care, which takes care of more than 225 kids in their 10,000 square foot property every day. During the storm, we were told, the parking lot and area surrounding the center looked like a lake and the building had approximately four feet of water inside. That was tough to picture as we toured the child care center, though the large stacks of chairs, art supplies and toys piled high onto shelves inside the classrooms and out in the lawn made it real. The center’s stove, refrigerators and other equipment were ruined, with gallons of milk still sitting inside cases in the middle of the kitchen

Photo of a daycare center in Houston, Texas. Photo by Save the Children Action Network staff member, Allie Wright.

Despite this devastating damage, the dedicated staff there are working hard to reopen. They know it’s critical to get kids back in child care as soon as possible so they can feel safe and continue to learn.

JoAnn Davis, the owner, and her family are working from dawn to dusk to replace ruined carpet, repaint walls and set up new kitchen equipment in order to continue feeding the more than 1,000 kids they serve every day in their center and sister locations. JoAnn’s son was working a full-time job and sleeping in his truck for only two to three hours a night in addition to buying materials and leading the rebuilding effort for the child care center. I was inspired by their dedication to their community and to their kids and am happy to say they have partially reopened this week.

During our visit, several children told us about their experiences during the storm. While their stories were traumatic – some included being rescued from their homes by boat – their resiliency was evident and they were eager to play with the toys not damaged by flooding. JoAnn said many kids stop by the center every day to check on the building’s progress. They are as invested in its recovery as their parents surely are.

Nearly half the schools in Houston, including Hilliard Elementary, which we toured, were also damaged by the storm, with more than 10,000 Houston Independent School District students likely be temporarily displaced from their storm-damaged schools and sent to other campuses.

As we walked through Hilliard Elementary School on Friday, dodging stacks of boxes of books and fans working to dry out the carpet-less floor, you could feel the staff’s urgency to get kids back in the classroom. I’m grateful kids in Houston are being looked after by principals and teachers who are trying to bring some sense of normalcy back to these kids’ lives.

Save the Children is helping to secure and distribute essential school supplies damaged by Hurricane Harvey, including books, computers, sports, band and art equipment and supplies, and is supporting efforts to refurbish libraries and playgrounds.

Our incredible emergency response team has been on the ground in Texas since before the storm hit on August 25, working to meet children and families’ immediate needs. We have established Child Friendly Spaces in evacuation shelters in areas disrupted by the storm. These are safe, designated areas where children can play, socialize and begin to recover after a disaster, while allowing their parents to concentrate on addressing immediate and longer-term recovery needs.

Children attend Save the Children’s child-friendly space in the George R Brown mega-shelter on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, in Houston, Texas. The play space is part Save the Children’s recovery efforts geared toward displaced families and their children following Hurricane Harvey’s destruction. (Photo by Anthony Rathbun/Save the Children via AP Images)

Additionally, we are distributing essential materials to shelters, such as portable cribs, strollers and infant and toddler hygiene supplies.

Throughout the visit, Jennifer and I were struck by the strength of the people of Houston. Despite losing their homes, cars and many other personal belongings, the people we met have not lost their willingness to help others. I have no doubt that the community will come back stronger than ever before, and Save the Children will be there, as well as in Florida to help in the recovery from Hurricane Irma, to provide support every step of the way.

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Mark K. Shriver is Senior Vice President of U.S. Programs and Advocacy at Save the Children and President of Save the Children Action Network, which seeks to build bipartisan will and voter support to ensure that every child in the U.S. has access to high-quality early learning and to end preventable maternal and child deaths around the world. Shriver’s career fighting for social justice in advocacy and service organizations, as well as elected office, has focused on advancing the right of every child to a safe and vibrant childhood