Reflections from Spring Break: Service Corps Houston Service Trip

The Houston Spring Break Ross Crew: (back left) Monika Johnson, Sina Dorner-Müller, Andrew Davis, Ivy Wei, Kashay Sanders, Nadia Putri (holding the Ross bag), April Shen, Erik Wolfe, (first row left) Ada Shelegova, Thuy Nguyen

This spring break, ten Ross MBA students trekked to Houston, Texas to participate in hurricane relief efforts with All Hands and Hearts, an international disaster response organization. Although much of the city of Houston has emerged from Hurricane Harvey since August—in which 40,000 people were displaced, 83 were killed, and 185,000 homes were damaged– many communities are still rebuilding and lack the resources to fully recover. All Hands and Hearts is providing critical support to families who continue to reconstruct their homes after the historic hurricane.

The team, organized by Monika Johnson (MBA 1/ERB 2) and Kashay Sanders (MBA 1), brought diverse backgrounds and motivations to the experience, representing six countries and a variety of professional paths. For four days, they lived at the All Hands base with 50 other volunteers from around the world, honed their construction skills at sites across Northeast Houston, gutted (the first step of the rebuilding process) an elementary school, and became acquainted with beneficiaries of their work.

Below, see a few of their reflections from this moving week of impact.

Nadia Putri, MBA 1

Rossers Andrew Davis and Nadia Putri gather tools for the day

When I was an undergrad, I’d always wanted to do a service trip during spring break. But, the right opportunity never came. When I heard about the Service Corp Houston trip, and since I am planning to go back to Indonesia after Ross, I thought this might be my final chance to do something I’ve always wanted for so long. I’m glad I finally did it.

People from all walks of life, ranging from young professionals to retirees, decided to pause their regular lives, share a room with 10+ people, and spend 6+ hours a day rebuilding strangers’ homes. The motivations behind joining this project may vary, but the impact they bring always makes Harvey survivors tear up when talking about it. As one lady told me while I was putting floors in her house: “After Harvey happened, I was sad, I cried for days. But I decided to move on and I am blessed to have found All Hands. My house would not have come this far if not because of you guys.” I’d only met her that day, but I’m so thankful to have been a tiny part in bringing her one day closer to moving back to a house where she grew up in.

Sure, the work was physically challenging sometimes. But looking back, the highlight was not the work itself. The people that I met and conversations that I had left the strongest impression in me. This experience reminds me to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to life outside Ross, and to always find a ‘place’ where I can bring positive impact to those around me.

Ivy Wei, Erb 1

Ivy Wei using a power tool

Oftentimes we hear about the impacts of natural disasters on communities through the lens of the media and news outlets. I wanted to have an opportunity to not only connect directly with individuals and families impacted by Hurricane Harvey, but also spend time with like-minded MBA students who also believe in giving back to society through volunteer work.

My main takeaway was that people are willing to take days, weeks, and even months away from their lives to help others. Nonprofits like All Hand All Hearts provide volunteers like myself, and other community members from all over the world, an avenue to give back to others. Collectively, our individual contributions have the ability to have a tremendous impact on society; through the efforts of volunteer-led organizations, we have a powerful channel to give back to others.

Erik Wolfe, MBA 2/ERB 2

April Shen , Monika Johnson, Kashay Sanders, Erik Wolfe, Sina Dorner-Müller, Thuy Nguyen after a day working on the Rhodes School

I chose to go on this trip for a few reasons.  First, I wanted to join a service trip because I knew it would be a great way to bond with other classmates, and that often giving of yourself is a fantastic way to recharge your batteries.  Adam Grant speaks of that in his book, Give and Take. I’m also a big weather nerd, as many in the Ross community know, so I was keenly aware of Harvey and its aftermath. I’ve been personally exploring climate resiliency efforts made by cities and businesses.  This trip was a nice combination of those two interests.

There were two key takeaways from this trip.  First, redevelopment is a function of privilege. The privileged areas of Houston have seen great recovery, yet the under-resourced areas are still struggling. Second, there is a secret sauce in selfless service.  I noticed this in the farewell speeches and in the high performing leadership of the staff, many of whom were much younger than us. Whenever volunteers would leave camp, they’d give a farewell speech. Volunteers consistently spoke of how their lives and perspectives had been changed through their time serving alongside others. The more they gave, the more they received. Now I’m returning with the hope of bringing that same attitude to Ross and to my internship. Additionally, the staff seemed supercharged with energy and purpose, and I mostly attribute that to their connection with selfless service.

Moved by the experience and the level of operational excellence at All Hands and Hearts, the Ross team kicked off a fundraising page for the organization, currently having raised over $2000. To contribute to All Hands and Hearts’ Texas recovery efforts, visit this page. The newly formed Ross group Wolverine Disaster Response plans to organize more opportunities to lend a hand in the 2018-2019 school year, so stay tuned!

A few more photos of what our work looked like: