Recent graduates journey to Houston to volunteer at Hurricane Harvey shelter
By Erinn Connor
After Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, recent Loyola University Chicago graduates Joshua Torrence and Alex Yang felt compelled to help the people of southeast Texas.
They’d spent much of their summer job hunting and preparing for their nursing licensing exam, and weren’t sure they had enough experience to be much help. But eventually they decided that even if they didn’t have enough medical expertise, they could at least volunteer in some way.
They packed Torrence’s truck and drove 16 hours to Houston, much of which was deserted when they arrived.
“The sight of an entire neighborhood with dumpster sized piles of belongings was heartbreaking,” said Torrence, who graduated from the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program in the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing in May. “After stopping at a few pop up shelters and giving supplies, we encountered some nurses who informed us of the need for nurse volunteers at the NRG Center’s emergency shelter back in Houston. Thrilled to utilize our skills to help, we traveled back and were quickly put to work.”
The NRG Center is a giant exhibition space that normally hosts rodeos and tradeshows that had been transformed into a shelter for more than 2,000 people.
Running the shelter was BakerRipley, a non-profit that assists low-income families in achieving financial stability. BakerRipley is continuing to help residents through coordinating long-term hurricane relief efforts.
While working in the shelter’s medical center, Torrence and Yang coordinated with emergency service providers and other shelter volunteers to help treat any urgent care needs that came up among Houston residents staying at NRG.
“In triage we worked with the doctor to ensure that the residents were directed to the appropriate level of care in a timely manner,” said Yang, another May ABSN graduate. “The outpouring of support from the medical community was incredible. We met medical professionals that headed to Houston to volunteer from California to Maine.”
The two worked nights, usually from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Torrence’s main role was to help the nurse in charge overnight. He also coordinated with the NRG staff to manage supplies, EMS services, and collaborated with Harris County Clinic.
“These two are exceptional students and exceptionally dedicated nurses who shared their gifts and knowledge with those in need,” said Janet Mc Carthy, MSN, MBA, RN, ABSN program director at Niehoff.
Despite their lack of on-the-job experience, both Torrence and Yang felt that their time at Loyola helped prepare them to help out the people of Houston.
“Our time at Loyola taught us that nursing is about caring for more than clinical conditions,” said Torrence. “Loyola taught us to care for individuals with respect and compassion, and our ability to therapeutically communicate with patients and advocate on their behalf is what allowed us to make an impact. Also, Loyola prepared us work well as part of a health care team, and in the chaos of an emergency shelter with rotating volunteers, our ability to collaborate led us into leadership roles.”
Adds Yang: “It wasn't skills like interpreting EKGs or placing an IV that made us successful, but being able to connect with people that are going through a traumatic, life changing experience that allowed us to really make a difference. This experience really broadened my perspective of the various aspects of health care, and forced me to think about how I can impact my community outside of my hospital or unit.”
The University community is helping to coordinate donations to those affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria as well as those impacted by the Mexico City earthquake.
“Volunteering in a disaster stricken area exposes you to some truly moving stories that develop your empathy and compassion towards others,” said Torrence. “I discovered that volunteering in these areas helps develop leadership skills and that nurses can play a critical role in creating order from the chaos.”