It's been about three weeks since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, and we're still not back to normal. I've lived around floods and hurricanes my whole life, but I've never seen anything like the Harvey floods. It was terrifying and tragic, but it was also miraculous.
Our neighborhood was lucky to have power and internet throughout the flood, although we were all trapped in our homes for many days from flooding. Miraculously, a few neighbors with high water vehicles (not uncommon in Texas!) were on the roads and the neighborhood discussion board finding and connecting sick children in the neighborhood with doctors and pharmacists in the neighborhood, and then with neighbors who had extra medicines needed. They were even getting milk and diapers from the homes of people who had them and didn't need them to the homes of people with children who were out and desperately needed more while we couldn't access a grocery store. Everyone involved in these complex, supportive transactions are now my personal heroes!
Our home was spared (just barely), but two of our rental homes were destroyed. That was the terrifying and tragic part. Here's the miraculous part. They had already evacuated, and when they returned, we got to know our renters and their families and friends in a way that never would have happened if we hadn't been shoulder to shoulder carrying wet furniture, family photos and carpet to the street. (I discovered I have a natural gift for carpet pulling!) We also got to know the neighbors all around us as people walked up and down the street offering help, sandwiches and cold drinks. The sense of community was unlike anything I've ever experienced anywhere in my life.
Even more surprising is when we talked about our renters on our own neighborhood's association page, complete strangers from all over our neighborhood dropped by to bring food, clothes, furniture and toys for us to bring to their neighborhood. We probably never would have met these amazing, generous, wonderful neighbors of ours if it hadn't been for Harvey. Which is sad, when you think about it.
I mentioned our renters' challenges on my own Facebook page and suddenly we had food, bedding, clothes and hundreds of dollars of donations and gift cards from concerned friends. One person even donated a replacement wheelchair for our renter who lost hers in the flood! An old friend who moved to California set up a benefit concert series to directly support several non-profits and families in Houston, including my renters whom she'd never met! I can't tell you how moved and humbled I was by the generosity of friends, strangers and acquaintances who were so determined to help complete strangers.
Then it got bigger. Out of the blue, I got a call from the National Speaker Association, and they asked was if I was OK, and said if I needed anything, including money, they were there to support their members. I was so moved by their unexpected and generous offer, that I cried for the first time during the whole ordeal. Who expects a professional association to offer charity??? Fortunately we didn't need assistance, but not all of the organization's members were so fortunate.
Meanwhile, the MBA Career Services and Employer Alliance stepped up and organized volunteer career counselors to help the students at affected schools like mine while we were short-staffed and chaotic, and people from all over the country volunteered their time to help our students and alumni. Then the organization started a gofundme page specifically to help the people in member career centers who had been flooded during the storm. I was absolutely floored by the generosity shown by strangers from around the world who were connected only by organizational membership and concern for others.
Back on the home front, when we returned to work at the University of Houston, many of our students, faculty and staff had lost everything. And to add stress to that, the career fair was coming less than two weeks after we re-opened, and there was no way to move it -- it's too big! But we had students who'd lost everything, including jobs and interview suits. They needed paying internships and jobs, so they needed career fair. And again we had miracles. Dress for Success Houston and Career Gear Houston processed record numbers of suit requests in record time for our office and many others in the city needing professional dress after the storm. My office did its best to fill the gap with loaners from our "Suit Closet" that we keep with about 100 suits that students can borrow. But it wasn't enough. The call went out to the college that we needed things to go with the suits, so dress shirts, belts, ties and more poured in. Then one of our professors wrote a personal check for $1,000 to help us provide more suits for students. In the end, nobody had to miss career fair because they didn't have something to wear.
Here's the bottom line: Networking is not about using people to get jobs or make money. It's about making connections with people who help make your life better in some way. Harvey not only helped us grow our networks by bringing together people who might never have met otherwise, but it also made us realize how special and wonderful the people we already knew could be. It brought home how many people there are in the world who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty in the service of their fellow human beings, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic background, education or anything else. Harvey brought me so much closer to so many people who have made my life so much better.
So rather than waiting for another terrible tragedy to remind me of the wonderful possibilities networking brings, I'm going to actively seek out opportunities to connect with people I may not already know, and see the hero they have the potential to be. I'm going to give people the benefit of the doubt that they have more kindness and generosity in them than I may have assumed, and most importantly, I'm going to try to live a life that is worthy of being surrounded by these people.