I am a disaster responder — a nomad in pursuit of helping those in need.
Almost 15 years ago, I had the opportunity to witness a presentation by Don Tatlock, Church World Service Central America and Caribbean liaison, on work he was doing in Haiti. As I listened in awe, my heart was filled with his incredible passion for this kind of work. I had been waiting very patiently for over 12 years, until I finally had the opportunity to go to Haiti myself. Immediately, I was on a plane. One year later I returned home and sold everything I owned so I could live the life of a disaster response nomad.
My life definitely keeps me on my toes and I often find myself in some rather precarious situations, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do. This path has taken me from wielding a sledgehammer during cleanup efforts with All Hands Volunteers in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake to co-founding a small disaster response organization, Respond & Rebuild, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in New York. I’ve braved the flood waters of Minot, North Dakota, and the shattered debris left in the wake of tornadoes that swept through Missouri and Alabama. Of all the adventures disaster response has provided me, none compare to the time it took me home.
I was in Rockaway, New York, on the eve of May 15 when three tornadoes hit my hometown of Granbury, Texas. Although my friends and family were all unaffected, I knew I had no choice but to come home and help.
When I drove into my small hometown, shock still lay heavy on everyone’s hearts. The devastated area was not yet open to the public or to volunteers. By securing the area, the county gave homeowners time to be the first on the ground, allowing them an opportunity to start grieving and coping in privacy. Those first few days are incredibly overwhelming. A grieving period is needed for the families directly affected before removal and recovery can begin. I was very proud of my town for their understanding and patience.
As soon as I could, I hooked up with Hood County Habitat for Humanity and All Hands Volunteers to help with volunteer and worksite coordination.
During my time with Habitat, Church World Service reached out and sent 200 CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets, storing them briefly at my home church, First Christian Church, before moving them to a Habitat house in the affected area. As simple as cleanup buckets may seem, they represent so much to the families whose homes have been damaged. With a bucket ready to go, when the time comes to move home, they have a gift ready and waiting for them. These buckets are the last steps between devastation and “Welcome Home.”
My time with Hood County Habitat brought me full circle. I was able to reconnect with the inspiration that started me on this path so long ago — CWS’s Don Tatlock. Don, also a member of First Christian Church, happened to be in town when the tornadoes came tearing through Granbury. In the first few days of response he volunteered in our church’s shelter for tornado survivors, and asked CWS to send the cleanup buckets.
I’ve never looked back since my decision to become a disaster responder. I would not have done that, nor would I have returned to Granbury in a time of need, if I had not heard Don’s presentation that wonderful day.
Shanna Snider, firstname.lastname@example.org, will spend a few more weeks in Granbury before taking a 12-month assignment with Doctors without Borders. First Christian Church is a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).