After Hurricane Harvey devastated homes around McNamara Elementary School, families lost their clothes, their beds, everything they worked for over a lifetime. As they worked to recover from lost wages and replace basic living necessities while trying to help their little ones cope with the traumatic experience, overwhelmed parents turned to the school.
With a long-standing network of robust services and resources from hundreds of organizations and volunteers ready to support students like those at McNamara at a moment’s notice, Communities In Schools of Houston was ready to help.
Maricela Varela, CIS student support specialist at McNamara Elementary, jumped into action. She talked to families day after day learning about their experiences and their greatest needs. From sleeping on floors to forgoing holiday celebrations, families confided in Varela about the sacrifices they were having to make. Varela worked with CIS community partners who helped McNamara families find new places to live, beds and other furniture, school uniforms and other basic necessities, and even Christmas gifts for children.
While many of her students are coping with fear and anxiety related to Harvey, post-traumatic stress symptoms can take six months or more to appear, so Varela is vigilantly watching and working closely with teachers and administrators to catch the early warning signs and get McNamara students the help they need as quickly as possible. Varela connects students who need additional emotional support to CIS mental health partners from Houston Galveston Institute and MD Anderson.
From post-Harvey support to a partnership bringing volunteers into schools to help teachers and students to a Houston Food Bank partnership that will provide dozens of students much-needed food, Varela cultivates relationships with CIS partners and serves as their liaison to the McNamara community, giving her students and their families access to the best resources possible. Parents trust Valera and all staff at McNamara will care for their children and provide the support and opportunities for them to flourish.