By Katherine Taylor
Executive Director, Genesys Works Houston
One hundred and twenty-five billion dollars.
That’s how much damage Hurricane Harvey caused as it battered the Texas Gulf Coast one year ago. Its almost biblical waters destroyed entire neighborhoods, forever changing the landscape of the Greater Houston area and the lives of many of its residents. And behind that enormous number and all that destruction were Genesys Works students and staff who lost their homes and lost their belongings – but despite all this, they never lost hope.
One year after Harvey wreaked havoc on our city, I find myself reflecting a lot on the power of hope and its impact on the high school students served by our program. Genesys Works students come from every corner of the city – they attend Houston, Alief, Spring Branch, Aldine and Sheldon ISD schools. Most of them attend schools with few resources, in communities that struggle daily—and yet, the rising seniors who join our program do so with an intense amount of hope for a better life and a willingness to work hard to achieve that. The impact of the hurricane brought new struggles as well as bringing their everyday challenges to the forefront. Yet they stayed focused on their dream of college and career success. In fact, their resilience buoyed the rest of the Genesys Works team and gave us strength in the face of the crisis.
When the many friends and partners of Genesys Works learned of the devastation we experienced, they immediately offered financial support to our affected staff and students. This support allowed us to create a relief fund, which provided assistance to members of our Genesys Works family during this time of tremendous need. Philanthropic organizations such as Bromley Charitable Trust, ECMC Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (Rebuild Texas Fund), Strada Education Network, Wayne Duddlesten Foundation, Per Scholas, TransUnion, and more than 200 caring individuals and family foundations donated funds to our students as they faced one of the most stressful and challenging times in their lives. In addition, Genesys Works staff in our San Francisco Bay Area offices started a Go Fund Me page to raise funds for staff who lost their homes and possessions in the storm.
But as critical as those donations were to helping our students and staff cope with the disaster, the support Genesys Works received goes far beyond dollars donated. Staff participated in evacuation efforts in their own neighborhoods while checking on their students and fellow staff, making sure all were accounted for. Volunteers helped clean out flooded homes once the waters receded, and corporate partners stayed in close communication and shifted work schedules as needed. Even as some businesses, such as AIG, SCI and McDermott, dealt with their own massive facility repairs and the logistical nightmares associated with relocating hundreds of employees and getting their operations back on track, they still remained committed to their interns, working with us to return them to the workplace as quickly as possible.
Last August, this particular class of Genesys Works young professionals started their year-long internship and school year with significant, even unprecedented, setbacks. But because of the financial assistance provided by our generous donors, the one-on-one guidance they received from their program coordinators and job supervisors, the support of our network of wonderful friends and volunteers, and their own incredible resilience, they finished strong and more determined than ever to realize their dreams of going to college and one day having a professional career. Most of these young people are starting college this month, and their Genesys Works team stands behind them as they embark on this new adventure, cheering them on, watching them soar to the heights they had hoped for a year ago.
I am honored to live in this city and proud to do the work I do, surrounded by so many hard-working and generous individuals who fought the same flooding, dealt with the same loss, yet were there to support their neighbors and strangers alike. As I look back on the last twelve months, I know that like our city, our Genesys Works community held strong because of you – our board of directors, our school partners, our funders, our corporate clients, our volunteers, and especially our students.
For students participating in the Genesys Works program, the meaningful work experience our corporate partners provide our students is a lot more than a paycheck. It’s a first step toward a lifetime of economic self-sufficiency. Their determination, dedication, and motivation to succeed in their internships fills me with admiration and reminds me of the amazing things that can happen when hope is coupled with access to opportunity.
We are so grateful to the many members of our community who realize the value of educational programs, workforce development programs, after-school programs, internships and apprenticeships – a multitude of supplemental curriculum to bolster our current public school system. More students in Houston need these programs if they are to take their rightful places in our future workforce.
Today, we reflect on the destruction Harvey wrought and celebrate how our students, staff and community faced it down together and grew stronger in the process. We thank those who let us stand on their shoulders during this difficult time. We remain committed to reaching more students with the transformative training and work experience that the Genesys Works program provides. We are ready for the future: a future filled with hope.