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WHS Social Worker Donates Her Time and Skills to Victims of Hurricane Harvey

By: Jalen Worstell

Westborough High School’s CSS (Center for Student Success) social worker, Ms.Balacco, recently traveled to Houston, Texas with the Red Cross Foundation to help those in need of mental health support after Hurricane Harvey. The hurricane touched down in Texas in  September causing $29.8 million dollars worth of damage in the Houston area.  Ms.Balacco flew on September 6 and stayed until September 16.  She stayed in a  Red Cross station in downtown Houston.

Ms.Balacco and the Red Cross emergency vehicles rushed to help patients in need of support.  They worked with the Mexican Red Cross Foundation as well. Despite the language barrier, everyone was able to come together with one goal:  to help everyone in need and to put a smile on everyone’s face.

Ms.Balacco says “Despite all of the heartbreak and devastation, the sense of hope and community no matter where you were from was super intense and you always had everyone working together.”

After each day of volunteering, Ms.Balacco went through a few steps in order to reflect on what she saw that day in Houston:

  1. Focus each day on moments of hope
  2. Look at small victory moments of resiliency
  3. Disconnect from the news and just reset after reflecting while maintaining personal health.
  4. Set routines such as try to eat and drink water

As a social worker working in the disaster mental health group in the Red Cross Foundation, Ms. Balacco knew it was really important to use the power of connection through offering water, an ear to listen to and a hug through to the people who were suffering from all the devastation.

She realized committing small acts of kindness by bringing balloons to the children who had lost everything in their homes could at least put a smile on their  faces.  

This gesture has inspired Ms. Balacco to learn how to make balloon animals so that when she volunteers next she will be able to make people feel better.  She also wants to learn spanish so that she can create stronger bonds with anyone she is able to work with to help any cause.

Overall, her experience in Houston has given Ms. Balacco a greater sense of gratitude of how life can change at any moment. Leaving everyone she was fortunate enough to help with was hard for her as most of the people who had lost everything to Hurricane Harvey.  What was so difficult was these same people had also previously lost everything in Hurricane Katrina.  As a result, they had moved from Louisiana to Texas to build a new home–only to become victims of another hurricane.

If you would like to help, you can donate to the Red Cross Foundation or any other organization that is currently helping victims of Hurricane Harvey.

a puppy Ms. Balaccos team and her rescued wandering in the streets . They were able to find the owner and return her home.

Ms. Balacco doing home visits in Houston area neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Harvey

ERV (emergency response vehicle) team and Ms. Balacco getting ready to go out and deliver meals and provide disaster mental health services in Houston area neighborhoods

These are Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV) – they are used for delivering hot meals, supplies such as cleanup kits, masks, bleach, gloves, etc, as well as for medical and mental health services.

This is the disaster mental health team (DMH) and Ms. Balacco working as partners with the Mexican Red Cross.

2 Responses to WHS Social Worker Donates Her Time and Skills to Victims of Hurricane Harvey

  1. Taylor Connolly

    November 3, 2017 at 11:59 am

    This is such a touching story!! Great job Jalen!

  2. Zachary Walker

    November 3, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Awesome article, very inspirational!

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