Austin in the Winter Storm: Sheila’s Story
In Texas’s unprecedented winter storm and power grid disaster, the non-profit organization Austin Disaster Relief Network inspired large-scale mutual aid and united the community with strength. They fielded calls and directly distributed resources that couldn’t be found anywhere else to hundreds of people in dire situations.
After personally experiencing some of the effects of this disaster, and consequently volunteering with ADRN as an emergency dispatcher, I felt called to visit with a few survivors to speak with them about their experiences.
I interviewed three individuals and families who not only received help from ADRN, but also gave generously of themselves to benefit the greater good. They’re inspiring humans. Read more about why I created this project here.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Sheila has had a full career traveling across the world as a flight attendant in early adulthood, and later becoming a law clerk for the United States Magistrate. Sheila describes that past version of herself as “the person that wouldn’t even go to my mailbox without full makeup.”
Now, she meets with me in a simple New Orleans Saints t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, her face clear and make-up free, walking her beloved Pug-Terrier pup, Harley. Vivacious and confident, Sheila tells me about how her values have changed, and how she’s found her greatest passion in helping her neighbors.
An avid supporter of Hope Thrift Store on 51st and Airport, Sheila frequently buys up household goods and distributes them directly to neighbors in her senior living community who need assistance. She proved her own theory when she learned during our interview that proceeds from Hope Thrift Store directly benefit the Austin Disaster Relief Network — the very same organization that came to her aid when her facility’s apartment management and government assistance were unavailable.
When the storm hit, and the apartment complex lost power and water, Sheila says she snapped into action, creating a headquarters in the community center room for receiving and distributing resources to the residents. She also led an effort to break the ice on the community pool, which she and other volunteers carried up to people’s units to flush toilets. Sheila says they knocked on all 322 apartment doors in the complex to find out how people were doing.
When management arrived the following week, they came to Sheila, looking to her for leadership on how they could step in and help.
Word spread about Sheila’s efforts, and soon she was getting phone calls from all across the city. People were offering her all kinds of ways they could help. Former journalist and news anchor Dan Rather, who retired in Austin, even personally called Sheila and offered to send her water.
“We have to help each other. That’s how this country was built. When you had sharecroppers and slavery, people made it because they helped each other. They didn’t depend on the government. We have to help each other, no matter what. I don’t care how much government helps us, it’s never going to be enough. It’s better when we help each other. And you’ll feel better about yourself, you’ll feel stronger and you’ll have a can-do attitude.”