Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, and the ramifications were devastating. My eyes were glued to the news covering recovery efforts, and my heart was broken for the victims in Puerto Rico. It was then that I realized I need to help in some way. I don’t have a lot of money but I have time and a respectable work ethic, and being a veteran, I was drawn to Team Rubicon.
My first deployment was to North Carolina in response to Hurricane Florence, in Lumberton. I didn’t have any idea what was in store for me, and I deployed alone, but almost the entire flight to Fayetteville was made up of fellow TR volunteers and I was instantly at home. Our flight was delayed so we headed to the airport bar and got to know each other. Little did I know that over the next week, I would bond more with these people than I have with anyone over the last decade.
I was assigned to the group headed to Lumberton, a small community that was once under water. The first few days consisted of damage assessments, noting the level of damage to homes, and compiling work orders if it was within the scope of our abilities. The first home I worked in was for a man in his 70’s named Elijah. We had to pull the moldy insulation from under his mobile home. Elijah worked right alongside us, sharing stories of his life and the Lumbee Indians.
Over the course of a week, we met with numerous families who lost everything. One of the most heartbreaking was a single parent with a 9-year-old daughter who was battling cancer, about to go under major surgery. Somehow the mother was able to keep it together as we walked through her house, identifying the destruction. Aside from a driveway full of ruined toys, the floors needed to be removed, insulation and ductwork cleared, and kitchen cabinets pulled out.
Another man we met lost most of his belongings in the flood and had to have his home completely gutted. After a day of work in his home, he was so grateful for us that he offered to let us take our pick of his vinyl record collection. Imagine losing 90% of your possessions and then offering up the remainder to a group of strangers. If you’re wondering, we politely declined the thoughtful offer.
The people I worked beside were just as amazing as the people we worked for. People from all walks of life, with different opinions but one goal– to help. Team Rubicon – Lumberton was made up of a gardener, a retired colonel, a firefighter who lost everyone on his truck on 9/11, a history professor, a barista, an artist, and many others.
I went to Team Rubicon to help others, and I gained gratitude and perspective in return. Hurricane response is not easy. You don’t smell good at the end of the day, but it’s one of the most humbling things you will ever do.