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Texas’ first lady, Cecilia Abbott, reflects on Hurricane Harvey’s sweeping devastation, the people who jumped into action and the power of coming together in spirit as a family. 

By Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott, Photo courtesy of the Office of the First Lady

As Thanksgiving and the holiday season near, now is a good time to not only count our blessings, but to consider the ways that helping others is itself a blessing.

I have always said what makes Texas truly special is the people. Texans are generous and caring people by nature, and that compassion is the foundation of our success. My greatest honor as first lady of Texas is tapping into that compassion and encouraging more Texans to give back to their communities. Promoting volunteerism and service throughout Texas is my top priority. It is the combination of the two things I am most passionate about: Texas and philanthropy. I call it “Texanthropy.”

In addition to encouraging Texans to volunteer and give back more, through Texanthropy, I highlight the many amazing organizations and individuals already making a difference in their communities. And never before have I seen so many Texans making a difference.

Hurricane Harvey left behind unimaginable destruction throughout Texas. Our hearts ache for the lives lost and for the families and communities that have been uprooted by Harvey and are now left to pick up the pieces and restore their lives. They will be recovering from this tragedy for years to come.

But even in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Texas spirit has come shining through. The response from our fellow Texans—first responders, nonprofit organizations, businesses and everyday citizens—has been nothing short of remarkable.

We’ve all seen the images on TV or social media of citizens taking their boats or other watercrafts into the floodwaters to rescue families from their homes and those trapped by the rising waters. We’ve seen the truckloads of resources pouring into shelters to help those displaced by the storm, and we’ve witnessed our fellow Texans dedicating their time to volunteer in those shelters. I saw lines and lines of people waiting at shelters, not looking for help, but wanting to volunteer and lend a helping hand.

I have been especially inspired by the stories of Texas women jumping into action to help those in need, stories like that of Becca Quisenberry, whose Houston home quickly filled with more than 5,000 diapers and other in-demand items after she put out a call for donations, then got her neighbor to volunteer a military vehicle to deliver the items to nearby shelters.

There’s the story of Holly Hartman, who downloaded an app on her phone and, in turn, became a part of the “Cajun Navy.” Using her computer and cellphone, she worked tirelessly from her dining-room table as a dispatcher to connect volunteers with those needing rescues in Port Arthur, Texas.

There’s also the story of my dear friend DeAnn Walker, who worked around the clock at the State Operations Center in Austin, coordinating with power companies throughout the state to get power restored to the hundreds of thousands of Texans who lost it because of Hurricane Harvey.

That’s what Texas is all about. We don’t back down when faced with a challenge. Instead, we put our differences aside and come together to help those in need as if they were our own families. Harvey was powerful, but nothing is more powerful than the Texas spirit, which shines brightest when we have the opportunity to help others.

Millions of Texans will experience a holiday season different from those of years past. But even in the face of this adversity, their spirit is strong. They are determined to pick themselves up and get their lives back on track. But they need our help.

So, as you begin to plan your holiday gift shopping and the expenses and time that go along with that, please don’t forget your fellow Texans who have fewer blessings to count this year than last. Together, we will continue to show the strength, commitment and resiliency that define our great state.

May God bless you and your families as you gather together this holiday season. We all have much to be thankful for this year.

 

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