They Learn That Doing What You Can Makes All The Difference In The Face of Disaster
In May of 2015, after weeks of heavy rainfall, the Texas Hill Country — known to meteorologists as “Flash Flood Alley” — suffered a horrific flood that displaced hundreds in a matter of hours. The next morning in Wimberley, a small town of fewer than 2,600 people, Courtney Goss walked into her church to see if there was anything she could do.
“A man came in after me,” Goss, 29, recalls. “I’d always known him to be very strong, very professional. And all of sudden, he just burst into tears because he needed help. It was a very humbling experience for me.”
Denise Treadwell, 52, and her family were out of town the night the floods came. “We heard about it on the news and immediately came back to help our community,” she says. “Because I had experience managing nonprofits, I was asked to attend a meeting to put together a relief effort. The town structure was not set up for the immense organization and logistics that were needed.”
Within 24 hours, Courtney and Denise met and started volunteering together. “It was a great partnership right away,” says Treadwell. “We had different strengths and could divide and conquer.” She wound up working the volunteer reception center, setting up a database and phone bank to match volunteers with those in need. Goss dealt with the volunteers and survivors who came to the church, arranging food distribution and walking everybody through the process to get help.
Together, the duo — putting in 10-hour days for weeks on end — helped more than 400 people who were suddenly homeless. And, they managed the thousands of volunteers who showed up and distributed thousands of pounds of donated items.
“Courtney is just amazing at being with someone when they are in distress and giving them hope,” says Treadwell. “She remembers every name of every homeowner, and their children’s, and she remembers where they all ended up.”
Goss returns the compliments, saying, “without Denise’s grace under pressure, none of this would have been possible. I was certain she must have had previous experience in disaster relief.”
She didn’t — but she does now. In fact, the processes that Treadwell and Goss implemented in the aftermath of the flooding have been adopted by member organizations of the Texas chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters. Both women, who were stay-at-home moms at the time of the disaster, have now committed to joining the Texas Division of Emergency Management as full-time employees.
“We came to see that every disaster is different and every community is different,” says Treadwell, “So, it doesn’t really matter how experienced you are in disaster relief or what you’ve done before. Whether your skill is communication or organization or making lunches, there’s so much that goes into response and rebuilding. There’s a role for everyone.”
After all, Goss adds, when she filled out a form to register as a volunteer, she paused at a line that asked the applicant to name his or her skills. “All I could think of was ‘I don’t have any,’” she says, with a laugh. “But I learned that that’s not really true. Everyone can find a way to help.”
To discover more about VOADs, visit www.nvoad.org.