Saddleback lends a hand to Houston Community College

SOCCCD Trustee member Marcia Milchiker presenting a check of $4,137 to Houston Community College's officials Wednesday, Nov. 1. (Courtesty of Houston Community College)

SOCCCD Trustee member Marcia Milchiker presenting a check of $4,137 to Houston Community College’s officials Wednesday, Nov. 1. (Courtesty of Houston Community College)

South Orange County Community College Trustee member Marcia Milchiker visited Houston Community College on Wed., Nov. 1, presenting the funds raised by Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College to HCC’s officials in efforts to aid in the recovery of their campus. The total amount of money raised between Saddleback and IVC added up to $4,137. To date, HCC has received a total of $70,346.61 from 239 donors.

Hurricane Harvey hit Houston Aug. 17, reaching full power by Aug. 25, devastating the city with wind speeds up to 130 mph. 27 trillion gallons of rain fell onto land, damaging more than 200,000 homes and claiming 77 lives. The estimated cost to repair the damages Harvey inflicted is $150-180 billion, according to Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Executive Director the HCC Foundation Karen Schmidt moved from Chicago to Houston several days before Harvey hit. Her first floor apartment flooded, leaving Schmidt homeless for two days. Schmidt took shelter in a neighbor’s apartment on the second floor until she could relocate to a safe location unaffected by the hurricane. Within days of the storm’s outpour, she received an email from former Saddleback Interim President Denise Whittaker inquiring about HCC’s need for financial support.

“Saddleback responded within days of the storm. I actually received Ms. Whittaker’s email right when I was trying to figure out where I was going to live,” Schmidt said. “It took us about a week to get back to her with the numbers showing that the student body and employees had been impacted.”

Schmidt was the chief development and marketing officer at Presbyterian Mission Agency, a non profit that also aids in disaster relief. Although coming into Houston, unaware of the coming hurricane, Schmidt was equipped with the skills the college needed to recover from the damages.

HCC sent out a survey to its student population and staff members in an attempt to gauge how many individuals were affected by the storm. 40 percent of the 5,500 students that responded to the survey either lost their home, transportation, job or all three. 20 percent of the staff lost their home, transportation or both. Schmidt immediately set out to establish the HCC Disaster Relief Fund, aiding those in need with food, shelter, child care, transportation and replacing school materials.

“Immediately, the foundation provided a $100,000 grant to the HCC financial aid office to help meet the needs of our students,” Schmidt said. “To date, HCC has received $571,755 in emergency funds that have been award to 719 students in need.”

HCC has aided 280 employees with $124,750 and an additional $250,000 to students in the form of scholarships and financial aid.

When former interim president, now the SOCCCD acting Vice Chancellor of Human Resources, Denise Whittaker received the statistics concerning the need of HCC, she gathered the Consultation Council, a group of staff, faculty and students who represent all major presences at Saddleback, and discussed how Saddleback could respond to HCC’s call for help. Within the same day, the council had decided to aid HCC  by incorporating Hurricane Harvey in classrooms, showing students how much impact the storm has had on Texas and the people who live there.

“We as a community college felt it was appropriate to reach out more specifically to our colleagues and students at another community college instead of a general donation,” Whittaker said. “What I have found is that students and employees, whether they’re managment, faculty or staff, when we reach out beyond what is happening locally, we find that we are more sensitive about issues that impact others. Education goes beyond the classroom.”

Milchiker has been visiting Houston for the past nine years, having her own experience with natural disasters. Milchiker and her husband had to evacuate their hotel room when Hurricane Ike hit in 2008.

“It was pretty incredible because the hurricane winds were so strong that they required everyone in the hotel we were staying in to evacuate. There was no gasoline, cell phones, restrooms or electricity,” Milchiker said.

During her latest visit, she was received with open arms when HCC officials guided her around their different college campuses, including the Coleman College for Health Sciences. Milchiker said she was amazed about the amount of people helping each other recover from Harvey and how it presented a great opportunity for students to lend a helping hand.

“It’s a wonderful learning experience for our students as well as a great opportunity for our students, faculty and staff to donate to the Houston Community College students who really need our help,” Milchiker said.

HCC is still receiving donations at to continue the aid of their students and staff.