How a Texas Community Banded Together to Help a Local School Recover After Hurricane Harvey: 'It's Made Us Stronger'
A Community Rebuilds
Sheila Psencik was devastated to learn that her school, Lutheran South Academy in southeastern Houston, had taken in water in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. "It was like the buildings were in the middle of the lake," says Psencik, who is the head of school for the K-12 campus. They put out a call for volunteers to help them start the recovery and hoped some people would show up to help — but they were shocked when around 500 people arrived Wednesday morning. "It was unbelievable," says Psencik. "This was a horrible situation but it's made us better and stronger as a community." Now Psencik shares with PEOPLE images and memories from the dramatic night of the flooding and the inspiring community outreach that came after.
An Emergency Refuge
The first round of heavy rain for us came on Saturday night and one of our faculty members lives in a one-story home just across the street from our campus. He called me and said, "Sheila, the water is rising. Is it okay if my wife go into the school and up to the second floor because the water is rising fast." I said, "Absolutely." As they were heading over to our middle school, they saw some other people evacuating with their kids on their shoulder. They started calling them into the school because there was nowhere else to go. Everyone was just looking for higher ground. By the morning they had about 150 people.
Getting the Bad News
When the teacher who had called me Saturday night told me that we'd taken on water in that building, we knew the whole campus had flooded because that's the highest building we have. Luckily, the National Guard was able to get to get them out to dry ground. We were so grateful they were safe.
Next morning comes and he was able to get out and take some pictures from the window of that building he was in and you couldn’t see ground anywhere.
Days of Water
We have a creek that runs by the school that's part of the drainage system and the creek had overflowed and it continued to be above flood stage until Wednesday. That was four days of flooding and there was no way we could get to campus.
Assessing the Damage
On Wednesday we were able to get back on campus and assess the damage and at that point we saw that there were was more than a foot of water in almost every building.
Making a Plan
Wednesday night we put out a call for volunteers. I was hopeful but also thought that people would also need to be focused on flooding in their own neighborhoods or even their own homes. I wasn't sure we were going to have anyone show up.
The Cavalry Arrives
We got here Thursday morning and there was just a steady stream of cars all the way from the freeway of people coming to help. I couldn't believe it.
Help From All Over
It wasn't just our own school family. There were contractors and other local schools who are normally our rivals had administrators and students showing up to do what they could.
There were people here the last few days who lost their homes and vehicles and there's nothing they can do about it right now so they thought they'd come help.
A Speedy Cleanup
We've had so much help that professionals have told us what happened just on the first day of clean up would have otherwise been a seven-day process.
At this point all the dry wall is out, all the carpet is out and all the contents has been separated from salvageable to unsalvageable and has been sanitized. By the end of Friday we had our fans and dehumidifiers up so we could start drying. In a school, that is unheard of.
A Grateful Disposition
It is absolutely amazing what has taken place. I should feel devastated but I feel so uplifted and blessed by God that not only did the volunteers show up but everyone has been so positive.
Keeping Spirits Up
Everyone kept telling us, "This isn't going to keep us down. We've got this. We've got your back and we're going to make this happen."
Looking at the Positive
There are about 30 or 40 faculty and students who have water damage to their homes but we didn’t lose a single person and that's what matters. Even amidst this chaos and storm, I feel so incredibly blessed about what has happened here.
Paying It Forward
I can't believe it but they say we're going to be back on our feet within a month. I'm looking forward to getting back in session because I think there is so much opportunity for our faculty and students to help this neighborhood, which has been really badly affected by the flooding. We're going to be okay, but a lot of these families are not.
This is such a tight-knit community. I can't explain the amazing feeling this has given us. This was a horrible situation but it's made us better and stronger as a community.