I got involved with Repair the World through the PeerCorps program when I was only a sophomore in high school. Since then, I’ve volunteered dozens of times with RTW and have worked hard to help bridge the gap between the city and the suburbs. The work was always very hard. Whether we were building an ice rink, farming at one of the urban gardens or painting a mural, we always left feeling tired and rewarded. Tired after a long day’s work, I would go home, eat dinner and crawl right into bed.
I learned a lot on the most recent experience I’ve had with Repair the World. With six other PeerCorps alumni and our leader, Rachel Fine, we traveled to Houston, Texas, to help in the post-Harvey rebuilding process. On our trip to Houston, we saw firsthand how quickly that warm bed can be taken away and how challenging it is for so many to rebuild their lives after a natural disaster.
The trip started with a tour of Houston’s Jewish community. We started in the Federation building with a long discussion about what the culture of the city was like in the days after the storm. We saw photos of people canoeing down their street to save their neighbors, homes destroyed and a video of 10 feet of water flooding their JCC.
It was shocking and hard to watch, but hearing the story of the JCC turning into a distribution center for supplies and seeing the community come together to rebuild was uplifting. We worked with an amazing organization, Undies for Everyone, to pack children’s underwear to be donated to victims of the storm or those experiencing poverty in the greater Houston area.
Our eyes were opened to how tragic these natural disasters are and how much we can do to help.
We then started on our first labor-intensive service project, clearing someone’s backyard from the stuff they had cleared out of their house following the flooding. We were sifting through years of a family’s life and stuffing it into Hefty bags to be taken away.
This was an overall theme throughout the weekend; it wasn’t just homes that were destroyed but family photos, wedding dresses and people’s most precious memories. It was devastating to see and truly set the scene for what type of work we would be doing that weekend.
After Shabbat dinner and incredible pecan pie (like un-freaking-believable), we fell asleep and got up the next day to start some of the hardest work we had done. We were sanding walls, cutting drywall, re-cutting drywall because we did it wrong the first time and learning more each minute about Houston’s situation. We did the same the next day.
We left Houston with a deep understanding of the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey and a profound respect for the volunteers who were giving up months — or even years — of their time to help recreate the city that Houston was 12 months ago.
On our flight back to Detroit, we couldn’t help but think of how lucky we are to have a community that supports us and how much is left to do in Houston. Our eyes were opened to how tragic these natural disasters are and how much we can do to help.
The Jewish presence in the rebuilding of Houston is incredibly inspiring, and we are so proud to be part of that process. Working with Repair the World gave me a completely new perspective on what can be done to help those in need, and I’m incredibly confident that we’ll all be back on the ground soon helping those in need.
Max Feber is a Repair the World Detroit alumni, sophomore at Babson College, CEO of BRUW and a social justice advocate.