How Coca-Cola Scholars are Helping Their Communities, Post-Harvey

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, stories of devastation preceded stories of resilience and communal strength.

For several Coca-Cola Scholars impacted by the storm, their network has provided a support system, with Scholars checking in on Scholars, providing donations and words of encouragement. Others have rolled up their sleeves and joined efforts to rebuild impacted cities.

Working around the clock, they’ve raised funds, cleaned out damaged buildings, set up childcare areas in nearby shelters, rescued displaced animals, collected items to donate to flood victims, distributed drinking water, staffed shelters, and much more.

Here are a few of their stories.

Volunteers serving food to first responders. Photograph provided by Hilary Corna, Coca-Cola Scholar Class of 2003.

Volunteers serving food to first responders. Photograph provided by Hilary Corna, Coca-Cola Scholar Class of 2003.

 

Hilary Corna, Scholar Class of 2003, Author & CEO of Kaizen Coach, LLC

As Corna and her boyfriend watched the devastation unfold from the comforts of Austin, Texas, they thought, “We can’t just sit here on our laptops while people are stranded on roofs two and a half hours away.”

Corna reflects, “There was not much thought. We had to do something with what we had.”

What they had was a connection to a popular local South African-Asian fusion restaurant, with whom they partnered alongside the National Guard to provide more than 20,000 hot meals to first responders within three days.

Volunteers flooded in to help make these meals, including Ravi Karia, a fellow Coca-Cola Scholar from the Class of 2011, who brought a cohort of nearly 30 friends for support. Though Karia and Corna had never before met, their desire to act in Harvey’s wake connected them.

Group of volunteers delivering their first 10,000 meals. Photograph provided by Hilary Corna, Coca-Cola Scholar Class of 2003.

Group of volunteers delivering their first 10,000 meals. Photograph provided by Hilary Corna, Coca-Cola Scholar Class of 2003.

Corna is quick to note that the praise belongs elsewhere. Seeing National Guard members sleeping on the floor in between shifts is a sight that has stuck with her. “These were the heroes,” she says humbly. “All we did was cook.”

Though Corna’s relief efforts have, thusfar, focused on first responders, her concern is the long-term support the city will require. “The best support is small and consistent over time as these relief efforts will take years and most crisis efforts are forgotten about,” she says.

Members of the National Guard eat the meals provided to them by volunteers. Photograph provided by Hilary Corna.

Members of the National Guard eat the meals provided to them by volunteers. Photograph provided by Hilary Corna.

Emily Ashkin, Scholar Class of 2015, Undergraduate Junior at Rice University

Ashkin, who is currently studing biochemistry and anthropology at Rice University in Houston, will never forget the crisis that struck the city she now calls home.

While Houston isn’t part of Ashkin’s past, she says the city is a symbol of her future aspirations. “Houston is the city I associate with my dreams coming true – my dream of attending college, my dream of pursuing cancer research, my dream of propelling my career,” she adds.

Harvey shook, but did not shatter, that dream.

Photograph of the devastation in Houston taken by Daniel Cohan, Coca-Cola Scholar Class of 1994, as part of a demolition crew with Rice University.

Photograph of the devastation in Houston taken by Daniel Cohan, Coca-Cola Scholar Class of 1994, as part of a demolition crew with Rice University.

Safe atop the university’s high-ground location, what concerned Ashkin most during the storm were those nearby whom she could not reach. “When we were trapped in our dorms during the hurricane, I remember feeling so anxious because it was too dangerous to leave campus to go and help people right across the street,” she said. “I told myself that the second I could go out and help I would.”

Ashkin has been working with families as they clean out their homes and with fellow students in relief shelters that have popped up across the city.

While handing out toiletries at a local shelter, she spoke with a man who’d been homeless prior to the storm. He was appreciative of all the shelter was offering him, but expressed concern over where to go once he had to leave.

“This interaction reminded me that many in the city of Houston were suffering before the hurricane, but that Harvey brought Houston members together to rebuild,” Rashkin says. “My goal is to help work toward not only repairing what Harvey has damaged, but also taking steps further to leave Houston in a better place than it was before Harvey.”

Richard James III, Scholar Class of 1991, Author/Creator of the Adventures of the Elements series and Founder/ Director of the nonprofit Sports Society for American Health

As James, based more than an hour away in Beaumont, Texas, can attest, Houston is not the only city working to recover itself post-Harvey.

James says of the unprecedented flooding that reached his community, “Even though it has been two weeks since the hurricane hit, we still have many homes and businesses under water. Many cities have no electricity. Entire areas have been declared 100-percent loss. One can drive miles and miles of roadways and see nothing but gutted homes with the debris stacked along the roadside.”

He and his wife had been through multiple hurricanes before Harvey, and with their experience, they knew they needed to help improve their community’s quality of life in the storm’s wake.

“We have seen how so many, especially those living paycheck to paycheck, slip through the cracks and struggle to not only recover but to simply survive,” he said.

From rescuing and sheltering animals displaced by flood waters to cleaning out and disinfecting homes, James and his wife are doing what they can to not just support their neighbors, but provide a lifeline to help keep them afloat.

“In all disasters, there is a huge mass of first responders and volunteers who arrive; this is a blessing,” he says. “However, when the first responders pull out and most volunteers have to return to their normal lives and occupations, so many are left facing rebuilding for weeks and months.”

Despite the daunting task ahead, displays of strength and generosity following the storm have heartened James.

“This relief effort has shown the goodness of humanity. So many have contributed selflessly and worked tirelessly,” he says.

Looking forward, he concludes, “There is still much to do.”

 

This story was originally published on The Coca-Cola Company’s Journey website and was republished with their permission. Thank you, Journey team!

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation celebrates and empowers visionary leaders who are refreshing the world. With its 29th class of Coca-Cola Scholars, the Foundation has provided more than $63 million in scholarships to 5,877 program alumni who together have become a powerful force for positive change. Learn more at www.coca‑colascholars.org.