Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:30 PM GMT on December 22, 2008
The following is a guest blog from Paul Timmons, Jr. (Presslord), leader of the portlight.org charity. Thanks to the efforts and donations of the Weather Underground community, the portlight.org charity has made a major difference in the lives of hundreds of under-served victims of Hurricane Ike:
Sunday September 14, 2008, was supposed to be, for me, an intentionally uneventful day. I had even made a point of going to mass the previous evening, so that I'd have no obligations on Sunday. For a variety of reasons, I needed a day of rest and relaxation. So there I sat Sunday morning, in my living room recliner, having walked the dog and fed the cat, ready for a day of nothing. Some cable news program was on the television as background noise, reporting the aftermath of Hurricane Ike and my laptop was in...well...my lap, as I read Dr. Masters blog and the comments on the same subject. Just your average, garden variety lazy Sunday morning.
Then a fellow by the name of Patrick Pearson (y'all know him better as Patrap) posted a comment which would profoundly and positively transform my life...and the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people.
It's a story about the fundamental goodness of the human spirit and the power of community...and the Internet as a tool to facilitate great works.
And it goes something like this.
Pat posted that he was putting together a truck load of relief supplies to take to Texas, as repayment for the generosity shown by Texans toward his beloved New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I, and several others, e-mailed him to ask where we might send donations to help defray expenses.
Then, it occurred to me that I was on the board of a small non-profit, tax exempt 501c3 organization called Portlight Strategies, Inc., which might be able to help. This group was founded in 1997 to facilitate a variety of projects involving people with disabilities, including post-disaster relief projects. I suggested to Pat that we run donations through this group, as it would enable people to deduct their contributions. He agreed...and set up a PayPal account to accept donations. Portlight Strategies, Inc., would then reimburse his expenses. It was a win/win situation for everyone involved. I expected we'd raise about $1500 from a handful of folks, Pat would make a run to Texas...and that would be the end of it.
There is simply no way I could have been any more wrong.
What ensued throughout the rest of that day...and the following days and weeks...can best be described as a nuclear explosion of human generosity. The blog filled quickly with posts from virtually all of you wanting to help the Ike survivors. My e-mail and WU mail boxes filled up with notes from people wanting to help. Ideas were flying around like (I know this is lame, but it kinda fits)...debris in a hurricane. And the PayPal button was on fire.
Volunteers, money, and ideas began rolling in. Crashing in. It was astonishing...and a bit frightening...and overwhelmingly gratifying. Within a day or two we had collected over ten times what I expected in contributions.
At some point on that Sunday, I called my friend John Wilbanks (Stormjunkie) here in Charleston (it's in the Carolinas), and told him what was happening...and he agreed to meet me at my office the next morning to help sort through things and come up with a plan. As Dr. Masters has noted, hurricanes cause chaos. And in my conference room that Monday morning I handed John a big old bag full of chaos...and asked him to begin sorting it out.
(By the way...this is a good time for me to address a very important point. Literally hundreds of you are integral to this wonderful story. It has truly been a grassroots phenomenon...and we all share equally in it. To mention everyone would likely shut down the WU servers. But three people have been critical: Patrick Pearson, John Wilbanks and Jeff Masters. Without the vision, focused effort and support--in that order--of these three, we couldn't have accomplished a fraction of what we've accomplished.)
So...John got busy. By the end of the first week he had made contact with people in the affected areas outside of Houston and we began to get a sense of what their needs were. Meanwhile, members of the Weather Underground community were continuing to communicate their thoughts and ideas with us, and plans were coming into focus. Dr. Masters got wind of all this and began mentioning it in his blog entries. Thanks largely to input from a variety of WU faithful, we realized that the most pressing needs were in the rural and small town areas away from Houston; additionally, people with disabilities throughout the area needed help. Thus we began to plan our efforts to assist the un-served, under served and forgotten people.
Supplies were secured to fill specific requests. Trucks were arranged. People were recruited. Funds were budgeted. And by the next week we were rolling. Into Houston...into Anahuac...into Winnie...into Bridge City...onto the Bolivar Peninsula.
The stories of the devastation we heard from our crews were unimaginable...and heart wrenching. The stories of the gratitude expressed to our crews by the Ike victims they met were heart felt...and heart warming.
"We thought the world had forgotten us," said one tearful Bridge City official.
"I don't have the vocabulary to adequately thank you all", said a Houston official.
A poor mother at a shelter in Winnie broke into sobs when handed a box of diapers. A box of diapers.
Other truck loads of supplies were delivered to the area in a second wave of relief about a month later. Thanks to some brilliant WU minds, much of our effort can now be seen and heard in real time via webcam at www.portlight.org. Many of you "rode in the back seat" and saw first hand the destruction of the Bolivar Peninsula on one of these trips.
Additionally, a significant amount of specifically requested supplies--from clothing to medical equipment--have been freighted into the area to contacts we made.
Also, we've facilitated ramp building for disability service organizations, arranged a scholarship for a college student with a disability, repatriated WU blogger BillyBadBird to his home on the Bolivar Peninsula, hosted a pizza party on the Bolivar Peninsula for survivors and relief workers. And we put on a big Christmas party with gifts for children in Bridge City on December 20th which was attended by WU members from around the country...and which was webcast at www.portlight.org.
And our work isn't done. Sometime early next year we are going to begin making small financial grants to groups in the Ike affected area.
At this point, we've raised about $40,000...and delivered over $500,000 in goods and services.
So, we now turn our attention to the future. Ike will hardly be the last hurricane to create chaos on our shores. But out of the chaos of Ike came some great revelations.
There are certain populations which are simply not well served by the large institutional and government relief infrastructure. It's a niche which Portlight Strategies, Inc., has filled in relatively small ways in past disasters. And which this community has filled in a big way since Ike. We are deeply committed to filling this niche in the future.
We are working now to establish several permanent staging areas along the East and Gulf coasts, so that we can respond to the needs of un-served, under served and forgotten people in an efficient manner. A series of grants we are scheduled to receive will begin to fund this. We are also working through budgeting and planning for the future. We are committed to having a reserve fund of $100,000 by June 1 of next year.
John is planning a Valentine's online auction to help raise funds. And I am working on a multi-city Walk A Thon which will raise awareness and funds. Shortly after the Holidays, we will unroll details on all of this. We're gonna need y'alls' help with all this. In the meantime, if you have any money laying around that you don.t know what to do with.the PayPal button at www.portlight.org still works nicely. Or checks can be mailed to: Portlight Strategies, Inc. 2043 Maybank Hwy, Charleston, SC 29412.
OK...I got the shameless plug for money out of the way...so I'll wrap this up.
Each of you owns an equal share of all this. You...I mean YOU...made this happen. Hundreds of people have come together in a spirit of community to help people in desperate need. And next year, any one of us could find ourselves in the exact same situation.
This can be one of two things:
1) A one shot deal that did a lot of good for a lot of people.
2) The beginning of an ongoing transformational process that makes us all the better for it for the rest of our lives.
I'm casting my lot with the second choice. And, based on what I've seen in the last 100 days, I'm pretty sure you will, too. We should all be proud of ourselves..and grateful for the opportunity to serve.
Paul Timmons, Jr.
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