Lessons from Katrina ...

I can't believe that it's been 10 years since that awful storm devastated one of America's most historic cities. More than that, the lives of thousands were changed forever.

As Katrina came to shore never in a million years would I have guessed that she would impact me. Ryan and I had just gotten engaged and we were busy making plans that fairy tales were made of but in the middle of my naive thoughts of having figured out the "good stuff" of life - she came blasting to shore without caring what she left behind.

The images of what the people of New Orleans had to endure haunt me to this day - I can't imagine their strength fueled by their fear. Their courage fueled by their sadness. Their hope fueled by their loss. In the days that passed hundreds of displaced people ended up in College Station and that's where I was hit by that giant hurricane wave.

Texas A&M became an evacuation center - we turned Reed Arena into a temporary shelter for nearly 1000 people. I will never step foot inside that facility again without seeing cots on that spacious gym floor. I got a call early one Sunday morning from our then Assistant Vice President, Dr. Wynn Rosser.

Dr. Rosser: Katy?
Me: This is she.
Dr. Rosser: This is Wynn Rosser.
Me: holy crap what did I do? 

He went on to explain the role that Texas A&M was taking in the recovery efforts of Hurricane Katrina and asked me to be one of the volunteer coordinators for the operations at Reed Arena. Me. I instantly felt completely out-of-my league but of course said yes.

And so I went to Reed and stayed there for almost two weeks, coming home to rest, shower and refuel and popping by the office every now and then to make sure my students had what they needed. But mostly I was in Reed, getting volunteers organized and making sure everyone that wanted to help could. We were under the leadership of General John Van Alstyne, the kind of man that silently demands you stand a little taller, talk a little clearer and listen a little harder in his presence.

What happened in those next two weeks was nothing short of a miracle. The volunteers more than met just the immediate needs of our guests. They created a safe space. They gave their time. They brought their talents. Our students set up classrooms for kids, hair salons for adults seeking employment, and donation stations for people needing everything from couches to kitchen supplies.

It's impossible to describe what took place over the course of that time. Me and the three other volunteer coordinators worked out lots of systems. My job became tracking food, making lists, accepting donations, assigning jobs, cleaning the restrooms, connecting people to families, sweeping, mopping, taking beds down and of course making approximately 1405 pb&js .... and before we knew it; 720 beds became 500; 500 became 300; 300 became 100 and then we walked in and were done. Every single guest had found housing, registered kids for school or moved to be closer to family.

Don't get me wrong - every single moment wasn't filled with happiness. Not every single person said thank you and not every single volunteer was selfless. Not every day was good. But every day had good in it. Even the hard was good. I had front row seats to witness the best in mankind. And I learned some things in those two weeks -

1. People want to help, they sometimes just need you to tell them how. 

When you see something - do something. That's easy enough, right? Well for some people, that fear of failing or doing it wrong keeps them from getting their hands dirty. Show those people the way, help them help others and then watch them fly.

2. Children really are resilient. 

You would think that kids taken 100s of miles from their home and their comfort would be scared to death. I have never seen bigger smiles on the face of kids. They brought such light and love to a dark situation. They comforted their parents. They got dressed for school and were so eager to tell us ALL about it when they got back to Reed.

3. You can never have too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

Seriously. It isn't possible.

4. We all need the same things: compassion, love, kindness and respect. 

Everyone needs and deserves the same basic needs. No matter who you are, where you come from, how much money you do or don't make. Humankind is the same. We have the same desires. We flourish in the same environments. And well deserve it.

5. Not everyone is nice.

There were many stories post-Katrina about those displaced and their "behavior and attitudes." Accounts from Houston, Baton Rouge and the larger cities that served as evacuation centers were less than a pretty picture. So many of these stories were filled with hate; one in particular was forwarded to me that stirs me to this day. I won't give the man the honor of repeating his words verbatim, but I will share that his lack of compassion for his fellow man appalled me so much that I of course emailed him directly to share my thoughts. (Go ahead and be shocked by this. Ha!) So not everyone was nice or caring or compassionate, but I'd like to think those stories were limited.

6. I never cease to be amazed by the people of Aggieland. We truly are a special breed and for that I am grateful.

One of my favorite stories from this entire time is one that never made the headlines. One of my students offered to give two women a ride to Home Depot one afternoon. They exchanged phone numbers in case they ever needed another ride. Well it turns out, they did. Several times actually and each time my student met that call. He wasn't getting points, no one gave him a high five, most people still don't know about it to this day. In fact, I didn't find out until a few months later that he regularly took them grocery shopping, to run errands or other appointments that they couldn't navigate on foot. And it still brings tears to my eyes.

The stories like this are endless here. Our office "adopted" the four most adorable friends that we endearingly referred to at "The Golden Girls" and I so enjoyed getting updates from them. They have now since moved back home or departed us all together, but they were a light among the storm. Them and many others.

7. I may not have been changed for the better. But because of them, I have been changed for good. 

So much of me was impacted by Katrina. So much of my heart and outlook. So much of how I try to treat others. So much of what I believe to be true about our country and how we approach service. And that doesn't mean I am better, but it did change me for good.

So, thank you,  Linda, Calvin, Asia, Carhonda, Darrell, Darrell Jr., Dekyra, Dejuan, Marquisha, Tyra, Ernest, Ernee, Linda, Joshua, Lakrisha, Mary, Miss Bernice, Miss Carrie May, Miss Mildred, Miss Clementine, Joe Briley, Nathaniel Carr, Clarence, and Arthur...and the cuontless others that now call College Station home...I am blessed to have had you brought into my life. You changed me for good. 


  1. Wow I didn't know you did this! How cool! What a great experience (and yet so sad) but I am certain it changed you as a person. Love your caring heart.

  2. Wow! Katy King you just continue to inspire and amaze me with your heart. You are precious.

    1. Thanks, Shelly! This experience is one that I would have never expected.