by Jennifer Hansen, American Red Cross NTX Regional Marketing Specialist
The sun shone brightly on a dry Dallas afternoon as temperatures hovered in the mid-90s. It was, by all accounts, a typical summer day in North Texas, a stark contrast from the weather experienced by the Texas coast only days before. Since Hurricane Harvey’s landfall and subsequent catastrophic flooding, much of Texas, and the US, was hard at work to restore some semblance of normalcy to those impacted by the storm.
With tens of thousands of south Texans still displaced by Harvey nearly a week later, including over three thousand Houston-area residents residing in Dallas shelters, a ‘semblance of normalcy’ still felt far out of reach. A shadow of uncertainty hung heavy over those who had so many questions still unanswered: ‘How bad is the damage at home?’ ‘How will I pay my rent?’ ‘Do I have a job to go back to?’ ‘When will the kids be able to return to school?’ ‘Will we ever be ok?’ A dire situation made worse by a string of unknowns.
On this same hot Dallas afternoon, Marissa Banda pulled up at the local Red Cross office. An English teacher at Acton Middle School in Granbury, TX, Marissa was on a mission: to deliver hope, comfort, and love to local Harvey evacuees.
“I brought a bunch of letters written by my 6th, 7th and 8th graders,” she said, holding a shopping bag brimming with letters. Colorful, heartfelt letters of encouragement, handwritten by her students, and sent with love.
Marissa had made the drive from Granbury to Dallas specifically to place the 140+ letters in the hands of the Red Cross, knowing that would be a surefire way to ensure her students’ thoughts and words would be read by Harvey evacuees.
“Hi, I’m Liz,” she begins reading from a letter written in adolescent script on bright yellow paper, decorated with smiley faces and colorful designs. “In times of trouble and terror, remember: good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” A powerful and welcome sentiment from a seventh grader.
Such sentiments and more fill the pages and pages of letters Marissa brought with her, each one representing a snapshot of her students’ creativity and personality. They vary in length, some detailing personal experiences with previous natural disasters (a snowstorm, a tornado). Many of them feature colorful drawings and sketches, playful and colorful anecdotes to equally positive words. All of them include a message of resilience and recovery.
The idea behind the letters was a writing assignment that turned out to be just as impactful for the students as it will be for the letter recipients.
“When I first introduced this lesson, I wanted (my students) to really understand the importance behind this,” she explained. She’d compiled a slideshow of images detailing the devastation and toll Harvey left behind in its watery wake, which she then showed to her classes before they wrote their letters. “These people don’t have much anymore, so with these letters, we can provide them with some hope.”
Her students quickly grasped the gravity of the situation, many of them touched on a personal level by both the extent of the destruction, and the emotional impact they felt writing the letters.
“One of my seventh grade students, he looked at me and he said ‘Miss Banda, I feel good!’” she recalled, smiling. “And I said ‘It’s a good day when you feel good, isn’t it?’ and he said ‘but I feel really good,’ and I said ‘You should, you’re doing a really good thing here.’”
A good thing, indeed. The letters were soon on their way to evacuees at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center. As the Texas summer sun continued to shine brightly, rays of light and hope were restored in each recipient as they read the comforting and heart-felt words from children miles away.