The Dirty Struggle

The sun beat down on us, the unforgiving heat amplified by high humidity that makes it impossible to stay dry. Our clothes, heavy with sweat, stick to and rub against our bodies, giving us heat rash that stings at the touch. Sweat drips into our eyes as we pull out drywall and smash kitchen fixtures with sledgehammers. A collective groan fills the air as backs and knees ache as we desperately use any tool we can to scrape tile adhesive off the wood paneling.

Nope, there is definitely no lack of struggle while on disaster deployment with the Texas Conservation Corps. With a lack of volunteers, and no Volunteer Reception Center to run, we are out mucking and gutting homes affected by the flooding in early June 2016. Calluses we’ve developed melt away in the Texas heat and arms ache from the swinging of tools. What sounds like an army of Darth Vaders is actually sixteen people in respirators.

After work, we sit through debrief as a collectively foul-smelling group to go over the day before rushing to the few showers or laundry machines shared by 60 people. We chip away at our hard-earned hunger with snacks until dinner is ready, where we eagerly eat whatever was made, hoping to pack some for lunch to add variety to the static bag lunches provided. After some rec time, we all wind down, hearing any updates from the team leader meeting that may affect our next day of work. As we lay down to sleep, we check our phones, making sure our 0545 alarms are set before we lay our heads down and go to sleep.

However, few struggles are without cause. Our cause, as a Disaster Response Crew, is to provide relief to individuals affected by natural disasters. This disaster resulted in approximately 380 of 400 homes in the community destroyed. Our job: deploy and do whatever is required of us to get the community back to some semblance of normal. This disaster requires us mucking and gutting homes. We take out all debris, salvage what is salvageable, and take the home (or affected floors if multiple stories) down to the studs.

While it seems like a destructive process, it is a vital service that saves the homeowner thousands of dollars. This allows the homeowner to get right into repairing and rebuilding their home. Sometimes an entire floor needs to be gutted, sometimes just the lower 4 feet. No matter the amount of work needed or damage present, this is an emotional time for the homeowners. Their lives have been forever affected, and potentially changed, by the disaster. All we can do is help them get back on their feet and provide other support, such as a listening ear or friendly conversation, when needed. And sometimes that’s all a homeowner needs, is someone there to tell them “Yeah, it sucks, and we are here to help make it suck less.”

Our service does not go unnoticed either. Even though they perhaps lost everything, they still find a way to say thank you for helping them, especially in small communities that are oft overlooked in disasters, be it through meals or prayers. People walk or drive up to you as you work and inquire about your business, and give a heartfelt “thank you” for sacrificing your time for them and their community.

After completing one home, the homeowner wrote on a feedback survey that “there is a desire to stay that was not there before.”

And that is what makes the struggle worth it.

Joe Jones, White Crew

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