First Things First: The worst and best of times

First Things First: The worst and best of times

September 10th, 2017 by Julie Baumgardner in Life Entertainment

CORRECTS FROM CONNIE TO CATHERINE - Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston. The remnants of Hurricane Harvey sent devastating floods pouring into Houston Sunday as rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Photo by David J. Phillip

Julie Baumgardner

Julie Baumgardner

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Just over a week ago, people across the nation and the world watched Texas and then Louisiana get pummeled by catastrophic Hurricane Harvey. Entire towns were decimated, and flooding described as "of biblical proportions" impacted 6.5 million people in the greater Houston area. Thousands had to leave their homes and seek shelter.

All of this has been taking place at a time when many say these United States have never been more divided.

Then something happened. Ordinary people from Houston and across the country showed up to help. Hundreds of people who dubbed themselves the "Cajun Navy" showed up to help rescue people from their homes. Complete strangers worked side by side to bring people to safety.

And it wasn't just about the people. Others went out in the floodwaters to rescue pets, free horses trapped in round pens and drive cattle to higher ground. All this, in addition to the first responders, FEMA, the Red Cross, Salvation Army and many faith-based entities.

On Wednesday, Brené Brown, author of "Daring Greatly" and a Houstonian herself, made a plea on Facebook for underwear because while they had lots of clothes, people needed underwear. Within minutes, her post had been shared thousands of times and viewed over a million times. Not only did Undies for Everyone, a Houston nonprofit, experience immediate response, but people also purchased underwear and sent it to them. As of Sept. 3, they had sorted and distributed at least 100,000 pairs of underwear.

J.J. Watt, a Wisconsin native drafted by the Houston Texans in 2011, set out to raise $200,000 to help his fellow Houstonians rebuild. To date, he has raised more than $18 million. On Saturday and Sunday, he handed out boxes of supplies to victims saying all of it was in addition to the money that had been donated.

Then there's Mattress Mack, the furniture store owner who opened his stores for those stranded saying, "To hell with the profits; let's save people." His daughter said this about her dad: "Sometimes in life, those closest to you surprise you in ways even beyond your realm of thought. Dad, it doesn't surprise me at all that you opened your stores to our fellow Houstonians — you would give your last breath for another — but it still amazes me how selfless you are. More than any being on Earth, I hope I'm half the person you are one day. During these horrific five days, my faith in humanity has been restored over and over, and you Dad are at the top of that list." Now as recovery efforts begin, Mattress Mack has announced he wants to rebuild or repair 1,000 homes and 1,000 apartments in 100 days, all with the help of volunteers.

If you haven't read the story of how Texas grocery store chain H-E-B was able to keep their doors open in the midst of the storm to provide essentials to people, it's amazing and worth the read.

The list could go on of faith-based institutions, first responders from other states, groups of concerned citizens who drove for hours, all coming together performing heroic acts to help those in need. The worst of times brought out the best in people both near and far. Nobody questioned political persuasion, skin color, education level or anything else. Instead, they stepped up and did what needed to be done in the moment. As a result, thousands of lives were saved. Nobody was looking for anything in return. In fact, many said they were blessed to be able to help others.

Is it possible we aren't as divided as we have been told we are across this country? Someone once said that while the needle on the compass may shake at times, it always finds north. Did Harvey help us as people of these United States remember north? Hopefully, as we all move forward, we won't forget these powerful moments. Perhaps the worst of times that bring out the best in some people will create a national ripple effect of change for the better.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Contact her at