Photography by Jo Savage
On August 25th, 2017, after blowing through Latin America and the Caribbean, Hurricane Harvey made its way into Houston, Texas, devastating those who lived in the city and the surrounding areas. Tied with Hurricane Katrina as the most costly tropical storm in history, Harvey produced ruinous results. After flooding the streets with trillions of gallons of water, ripping apart establishments with 135 mile-per-hour winds, and destroying personal belongings, including nearly a million cars, 39,000 people were left homeless, and many more were left with soggy drywall and useless exoskeletons of what had previously been their homes.
Furthermore, as if the emotional and physical impact of the hurricane had not been enough, the monetary damages were possibly even more devastating, requiring an estimated cleanup of 125 billion dollars, of which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) only provided 12 percent. And, to make matters worse, of the 15 billion dollars that FEMA did provide, the majority went to cleanup for public projects, such as shelter and debris removal, including roadways, hospitals and other community needs, leaving countless individuals to pull together their own resources and find their own compensation for personal property damages.
In response to the lack of much-needed assistance from the government, members of the Houston community stepped up, volunteering their personal time and putting forth physical effort to help clean up in the aftermath of the storm. One such man was Jay Shaw, a real-estate broker from Pearland, Texas, a small city on the outskirts of Houston. Working as a volunteer with Impact a Hero, a non-profit organization aimed at providing community support to wounded combat veterans, Jay was used to helping others, so when disaster struck, he knew what he had to do.
We met Jay at the end of August last year, shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit. In an effort to help as many people as he could, he had helped facilitate an assembly line to receive donations, set up at the Pearland Family and Community Center. People were able to drive through and drop off supplies while, simultaneously, those in need could pull up, get what they needed, and pull away. It was Jay’s leadership that encouraged DMOS to reach out, wondering if 400 Stealth Shovels might make a nice addition to the diapers, canned goods and water already in the assembly line. Jay agreed and, working as a point of contact for DMOS, he helped coordinate the distribution of a third of our 400 donated shovels to the stricken area.
Residents of the communities affected were thrilled to receive our shovels, which we quickly learned through Jay’s leadership and the photo and video documentation of photographer Jo Savage. But, as someone who may not have ever faced such a disaster, you might be wondering how a tool that’s been used as an emergency shovel in vehicles, a kicker tool in the backcountry and an ice-breaker in the driveway could possibly benefit an area with flooded streets and destroyed houses.
In the immediate aftermath of this type of disaster, mold and mildew find comfort in the walls of buildings, preventing homes and other structures from being habitable. As a result, residents who wanted to stay in their homes have to muck out the debris and break up the drywall, removing the damaged areas before beginning repairs. The 400 Stealth Shovels we sent to the area became an essential part of this massive recovery and home-saving project.
Furthermore, because the Houston community is made up of such a wide variety of people, including both individuals who are accustomed to physical work and those who are not, having a tool that was easy to use, lightweight, compacted down to the size of the blade, and expanded to nearly five feet in length was crucial in ensuring a successful cleanup. Plus, because the Stealth Shovel is essentially indestructible and has sharp, tough teeth, it made an ideal tool to break through mucky, moldy drywall.
Taking on a lead role in this initiative to incorporate the DMOS tools into the Hurricane Harvey cleanup was Jay, who distributed our shovels to volunteers around the area who were tasked with the responsibility of mucking homes. Jay, of course, remained nothing but humble throughout the whole process, despite the fact that, without his leadership and determination, DMOS would not have been able to make such an impact in the Houston area. “Initiative is so important in the world and in life”, Jay says. “If I had to explain Houston’s quick recovery in just a few words, I would say it was a result of everyone, not just Houstonians, but the state and the country, taking the initiative to do whatever they could, just to help out”.
According to Jay, this nationwide desire to help people in crisis took major priority over the petty concerns of day-to-day life, creating an interesting phenomenon in the aftermath of the cleanup. “Humans sometimes irrationally look back at catastrophic circumstances with fond memory”, Jay describes, “and the reason people do this is because when things are bad, especially with a clear cut catastrophy or threat, humans band together… and we really feel connected”.
In an effort to maintain this human connection and to continue to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, even after the publicity surrounding the disaster had begun to diminish, Jay still felt that he could use his personal knowledge to help the Houston community. As a Marine Corps veteran and an active member of the veteran-based volunteer organizations Impact a Hero and Warrior Benefit, Jay has had his own experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In a Facebook post reaching out to those experiencing PTSD symptoms after the hurricane, Jay wrote, “Did the rain and lightning yesterday make you feel funny? I have heard many people remark about it and so I want to share this. I have some experience with PTSD from Iraq and I guarantee many Texans are experiencing mild symptoms of post traumatic stress from this Harvey event/threat that lasted for many days”. He then continued his post with a list of tips for recovery and healing from PTSD.
Months later, Jay was offered a position on the board of the Interface Samaritan Counseling Centers for his help with Hope After Harvey, a program designed to provide mental health counseling specifically to those who had suffered from trauma during the hurricane. Later this month, Jay will be inducted into the Impact a Hero Hall of Fame. Thank you, Jay, for your dedication to bettering the lives of hundreds of other people and for helping DMOS be a small part of that difference.