Hurricane Harvey and the Houston Spartans
HURRICANE HARVEY AND THE HOUSTON SPARTANS
For years, MSU alumni have come together in their home communities for fellowship, philanthropic purposes, and service initiatives. The same is true for our Spartans in Houston. Little did the group know how valuable connections made over time would prove to be when disaster struck South Texas.
On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey, a deadly category 4 storm, made landfall in Texas. Knowing that it would be impossible for government rescue teams to reach everyone in need during and after the storm, several community groups stepped up to assist the victims of Harvey. One of those groups was the Houston Spartans alumni club.
Ahead of Harvey’s arrival, the Houston Spartans sent an email to their club members cancelling upcoming events and encouraging them to stay safe. The communication also stated that if anyone found themselves in a situation where food, water, or shelter was needed, they could email the group or post on their Facebook page. That offer proved to be important. As Harvey hit Houston, the city was pelted by torrential rains and suffered from storm surges off the Gulf Coast, causing the city to become completely inundated with floodwater in addition to the damage sustained by Harvey’s immense winds.
Within hours of the storm passing, the Houston Spartans’ Facebook page was full of requests for resources and rescues. Multiple members posted about friends and family needing rescue from their rooftops after the Coast Guard was unable to respond fast enough to the multitude of calls they received. Houston Spartans tracking posts on the page helped place calls to first responders, making the locations of those in trouble known to agencies able to assist. Dozens of others posted links to information about apps, local shelters, or charity organizations that could provide necessary resources. Spartan hospitality was evident, as many alumni opened their homes to Spartans and their families who had no place to stay after their homes were left uninhabitable.
In addition to members of the group acting individually, the leadership of the Houston Spartans coordinated and sent volunteers from within the organization to assist Spartans whose homes needed to be remediated. They also used their scheduled email game watch notifications as opportunities to request donations of needed supplies from members. By fully utilizing their communications resources, the Houston Spartans were able to mobilize their members to make a widespread and positive effect within their community.
The great work the Houston Spartans were doing caught the attention of an alumnus with another idea of how to help. They immediately offered to make an anonymous donation of $20,000 to the club in support of Spartans directly affected by Harvey. This individual was awarded the Spartans Will Medal by Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon for their generosity during a time of need. The donor stated that back when they were a student 50 years ago, others helped to provide them with the financial assistance they needed to attend the university. The individual now feels it is appropriate to pay it forward and assist their fellow Spartans. A second anonymous donor contributed an additional $5,000.
The generosity of these two individuals enabled alumni impacted by Hurricane Harvey to apply for funding of expenses not covered by insurance, such as rental cars, appliances, and apartment rentals. The Houston Spartans sent out an email to its members informing them of this opportunity and gave them until September 17 to request aid. Within a few weeks, the requests totaled over $100,000. Board members did everything within their power to divide available funds amongst those in the most severe and immediate need. The Houston Spartans are continuing to collect goods and supplies through game watches and other events, and alumni have offered everything from legal advice to pet rescue.
The story doesn’t end with Harvey. Two weeks after Harvey devastated Houston, Hurricane Irma was taking aim at Florida. The Houston Spartans and MSU Alumni Association realized the opportunity to prepare Florida’s club leaders to assist their affected communities. The board members of the Houston Spartans held a conference call with several alumni club boards from Florida and other East Coast states as Hurricane Irma began to approach. They discussed unexpected occurrences, what went well for them, what they would have done differently if they had more time, etc. They also discussed techniques for staying organized and in contact – for example, the Houston Spartans board members had a scheduled check-in time by phone or email. If a member did not answer at that set time, efforts were coordinated to ensure the safety and health of that particular board member. By holding this call, the Michigan State University alumni clubs were able to come together and unite Spartans nationwide in an effort to assist both in preparation for the landfall of another major hurricane and in the repairs needed in the aftermath.
Overall, what stands out the most in the wake of this devastating storm is the strength and unity shown by the Michigan State University alumni community. While the events of Hurricane Harvey were unexpected and unpredictable, Spartans adapted and mobilized to make a difference in their communities. They came together as a group and worked to empower each other and remain united through an extremely emotional and stressful time. The actions and attitudes exhibited by members of the Houston Spartans embody what it truly means to be a Spartan. Spartans support each other and do everything possible to ensure the success of their fellow alumni. Spartans act with selflessness and generosity to help others. Who will rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Harvey? Spartans Will.