Survivor Strength in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey

Survivor Strength in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey

With Hurricane Irma already bearing down on the coast of Florida, a group of five Pine Rest clinicians traveled to Houston to serve some of the people affected by Hurricane Harvey’s devastation. Bob VandePol, MSW, Executive Director of Pine Rest PAX Crisis Response and Employee Assistance Program, shares their story.


On September 5, I traveled in the company of four other Pine Rest clinicians to Houston, Texas.

We were contracted by R3 Continuum, a crisis response organization. Our mission: to consult and support companies and their employee teams impacted by Hurricane Harvey. This catastrophic storm brought historic flooding and resulted in the displacement of thousands of families and significant damage or total destruction of countless homes and businesses.

We joined a larger crisis response team that served many industries critical to the Texas economy including healthcare, schools, airlines, chemical production, technology, manufacturing, oil, news media and retail. Each day, we met with business leaders, consulting them on how to compassionately address the personal devastation their employees faced and facilitate their return to work. We also provided on-site support to those employees in group and private meetings.

Throughout the week, we had the rare opportunity to get an up close and personal look at the human faces behind this tragedy. We witnessed the grief as people slowly came to realize the magnitude of loss – homes, possessions, personal effects – and in some especially tragic cases, loved ones and neighbors – gone forever … The financial strain due to the fact that much of the flooding occurred outside the flood zone making those losses uninsured … The absolute and total fatigue from evacuation and cleanup efforts that seemed to have no end in sight.

However, we also saw determination as the people of Houston fully realized how long the recovery was going to take, and banded together with incredible strength and courage they may have otherwise never even known they had. We were inspired by stories of courage and generosity as people came to each other’s aid in many ways, both during and after the storm. Some of these incredible stories included:

  • Dedicated medical staff who stayed with their hospital for a week or longer after being put on lock down – hospitals full of patients incapable of leaving, unable to reach their families and whose families were unable to reach them. We spoke to staff who worked extended shifts and slept at the hospital for days, even as their own families struggled.
  • Compassionate acts to help comfort those dealing with the stress and grief of family deaths or personal health emergencies which Harvey magnified and complicated beyond comprehension.
  • Extreme generosity from employers as a means of reactivating their employees’ productivity. Cash gifts, no-interest loans, gift cards, food, water, clothing, cleaning supplies, motel lodging, and aid in filling out FEMA and insurance forms, were just a few of the gestures made by caring employers.

The feeling of powerless is a terrifying one, no matter who you are. When leaders help their people focus on what they CAN control, they help their team and the company as a whole regain a healthy sense of order, efficacy and calm.

Pine Rest Crisis Response Team Members from L to R: Bob VandePol, MSW (Executive Director of Pine Rest PAX Crisis Response and Employee Assistance Program); Dina Anaya, MA, LPC (Holland Clinic); Stephen Kornoely, LMSW (Northwest Clinic); Jon Weeldreyer, MA, CAADC (Kalamazoo Clinic); and Carol Bosch, LMSW (Southwest Clinic)

As our team of clinicians worked to carry out the Pine Rest mission, we witnessed company heads – the very people we were there to assist – exemplify crisis leadership of the highest order by acknowledging Harvey’s terrible impacts and taking steps to show compassion for their employees.

It is an experience that touched each and every one of us deeply and one that we will never forget.

To learn more about PAX Crisis Response Team and/or the Employee Assistance Program for businesses, faith organizations and schools, please visit

Bob VandePol, MSW serves as Executive Director of the Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance Programs which provides Critical Incident Response services to business, organizations, schools and universities as well as faith communities. Active as a keynote speaker, Mr. VandePol has published and been quoted in business and clinical journals, co-authored book chapters addressing workplace response to tragedy and has been featured as subject matter expert in numerous video training series.

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