Hurricane Ike struck Galveston, Texas, on September 13, 2008. Its 110-mph winds and towering waves ravaged the island, destroying homes, businesses, and lives. Almost 40 percent of over 50,000 island residents decided to stay despite the National Weather Service’s warning that they could “face certain death.”
One such Galvestonian was not around when Ike hit almost two years ago, but she still took action by starting a book drive, ultimately collecting 25,000 books to replace those lost in the storm. Marianne Pascal Beerstecher, Galveston native and former site director of the Jumpstart program at NYU, did not stop there. A couple of months ago, she approached me about implementing a curriculum at her former high school that would use Hurricane Ike and its devastation to inspire freshmen students to take action within their community.
After hundreds of hours of planning and lots of hard work, the Galveston Archive Project was born. Beerstecher, seven other NYU students who had helped create the curriculum, and I left for Galveston on May 16th and spent a week in the classrooms working with the freshmen class of Ball Prep. Hurricane Ike had affected each of them differently and we gave them an opportunity to record their stories in journals that we collected at the end of the week and will keep archived until Ball Prep’s 2020 Homecoming, 10 years from now.
But the Galveston Archive Project was not solely about Hurricane Ike and the effect it had on the lives of these students. It was more about helping them move past these tragic experiences and use the lessons learned to better themselves and their community. We discussed what “civic engagement” means and how each of them has the ability to help rebuild Galveston through this concept.
The 1900 hurricane, which destroyed Galveston last century, better illustrated this idea. Although many prominent people played important roles during and after the storm, there were just as many everyday people who helped to rebuild the island then. Despite the fact that they are only freshmen in high school, the students today can still play an active role in restoring their hometown by offering their time and effort to their community.
In the days that followed, we shifted focus from the past to the present, centering on the students as individuals. Using a quote from Jack Kerouac made popular by an Apple advertisement in 1997, we discussed the importance of those who may be seen by others as misfits, rebels, or troublemakers. It is often those who see things differently, who don’t always follow the rules, that become leaders and affect the greatest change. Many of the students connected with this quote and began to realize that they could use their different talents and interests to help not only their community but themselves as well. By putting community service or other related activities on their resumes, which we helped them to create, the students can begin to build a strong foundation for the future. Towards the end of the week, we held a volunteer fair at which the students were exposed to the many local organizations in need of their help.
The project culminated in a community showcase at which the students presented through posters or through performance what they had learned from the curriculum. Each poster represented the past, the present, or the future. Some students focused on the past, presenting their favorite historical figure involved in the 1900 storm. Others shared pictures or words that expressed how Hurricane Ike had affected them.
The day before we left, we set up a mural project at the Galveston Ronald McDonald House. Almost 40 students came throughout the day to help us paint a mural for the families of sick children staying there. The mural was a representation of how these volunteers were able to translate their desire to help their community into action.
It was the students’ passion and dedication that made the Galveston Archive Project successful. Every one of them has always had what it takes to become a leader within the Galveston community, to leave his or her own unique mark. At a time when many still feel trapped by memories of Hurricane Ike, Beerstecher, my fellow NYU students, and I merely showed them a way.