While many students eagerly left their homes for another semester at Swarthmore, leaving home was particularly challenging for a select few students, both logistically and emotionally. On the evening of Friday, Aug. 25th, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas as a violent Category 4 hurricane, causing billions of dollars of estimated damage, and unfortunately taking lives as well. With Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., and its surrounding suburbs, taking the brunt of the blow, many Swarthmore students felt the impact of the storm. Although many students lives were dramatically disrupted over the course of just a few days, they bravely left their families and homes to come back to Swarthmore.
Once here, though, the gravity of the storm still lingered for these students amidst new classes, reunited friends, and an immense amount of change. Utilizing the vast network of resources available here for altruistic endeavors and community growth, many affected students partnered with their peers to fundraise for and assist their communities back home. The athletics department in particular responded swiftly and admirably. The impact of this moving effort was felt both in Houston and here at Swarthmore, too.
Not long after details of the storm’s destruction came to light, President Valerie Smith released a formal message offering encouragement and support to all Swarthmore students affected by the tragedy. However, the end of her statement went a step further to invite all members of the Swarthmore community to help, if they felt so moved.
“By uniting with those who have suffered Harvey’s impact, we can help them begin the recovery process,” Smith said.
The athletics department took this invitation to heart and immediately rushed to gather any extra equipment and clothing that could be useful in the recovery process. Professional athletes such as J.J. Watt and James Harden, as well as professional sports organizations like the National Basketball Association, and the National Football League had already provided strong examples of productive response methods in response to the hurricane. Thus, not long after, a tweet from athletic director Adam Hertz showed a truckload of boxes of athletic gear all ready to be shipped to the victims in Texas. Although the athletics department itself did not promote their generosity via social media, presumably out of humility and respect, their admirable actions did not go unnoticed by the larger Swarthmore community and the student athletes they serve.
“It really means so much to me personally that everyone here is reaching out to help my own community back home. To see that people genuinely care about the destruction, whether it affects them directly or not, reflects the true character of Swarthmore,” said Alvin Lubetkin ’20, a catcher on the baseball team and a Houston native, whose home flooded in the aftermath of the storm.
Another catcher on the baseball team, Jaron Shrock ’18, and tennis standout Maria Cuervo ’18, both Texas natives, partnered in their own unique way to fundraise. After brainstorming unique ideas, the duo decided on a fun and authentic Texan tradition, a chili cook-off, to raise both awareness and funding for those affected by the storm. Since the spirit of the event was intended for community building and fundraising, all proceeds went directly to the St. Bernard Project. This project got its start after Hurricane Katrina and has undertaken important relief and recovery work in the Houston area since Harvey. After reaching out to professors, students, and the greater Swarthmore community, Cuervo and Shrock turned the event into a huge success on Saturday evening, with 17 contestants and plenty of hungry contributors from both the college and its surrounding neighborhoods.
“It was one of the few times I’ve seen so many different parts of campus working together, and I think it was a special experience for all involved,” said Shrock.
The recovery effort will no doubt continue for years to come, requiring millions of hours and dollars alike. Nevertheless, the Swarthmore community has a certain duty, even if the storm did not affect us directly, to do our part in the recovery process. Particularly with Hurricane Irma presently battering Florida, the Caribbean, and the southeast U.S., both recovery processes will overlap and require even more private aid. Fortunately, there are a number of options available to students and community members who feel inclined to help with relief efforts.
Those seeking to help can reach out to those members of our community whose families, friends, and lives were affected by the storm. President Smith also cited the American Red Cross, Global Giving, the SPCA of Texas, and the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund as options for financial contributions. The chili cook-off’s benefactor, the St. Bernard Project, also accepts donations. However, for those on a budget, Shrock suggested that students could donate blood or their time here in the Philadelphia area to fundraise or organize supplies.
Although it is hard to see the positive aspects of these horrendous disasters, they do bring together and strengthen communities. Here at Swarthmore, the athletics department came together to fundraise and make significant progress in the recovery process. Although there is still much work to be done, the Swarthmore community has stepped up in a big way to try and help the lives of those affected by the storm.