Our past five days have been both heartbreaking and awe inspiring at the same time.

We arrived in Sulphur, Louisiana on Monday, September 14.  As when we drove through on I-10 on the way to the Dream Center in Beaumont on Thursday, we were again simply amazed at the destruction, this time we were a little bit more in the middle of what seemed like a war zone.

We stayed in a Wal-Mart parking lot on Monday night and got plugged in to help on Tuesday morning with a Hurricane Laura supply distribution center that was being run by the Sulphur Christian Community Coalition or SC3 for short.

When we arrived at the center, we met Paula Taylor who was coordinating the efforts.  The distribution center was a church building that had taken on a fair amount of damage, but was operable enough after the carpeting was removed to house supplies, largely due to also having electricity restored.

Some of the supplies at the SC3 distribution center.

Paula got us started quickly, giving us instructions in between the onslaught of phone calls she was receiving throughout the morning.  Initially, the room wasn’t very full and we just had to get a few things organized and onto tables, but that quickly changed as waves of volunteers brought more supplies throughout the morning.  The temperature was in the low 90’s and very humid, so when Paula asked me if I would mind jumping into the freezer truck that was sitting in the parking lot to move bags of ice around in order to make them more accessible for people as they came to pick them up, I was quick to agree.

Later in the day on Tuesday, I met Maggie Bradshaw and Diane Connor and helped them load up some sandwiches that would be distributed in the Sulphur and Vinton communities.  Maggie was the original contact that our friend Jennie had given us to volunteer with SC3 and later Jennie would actually connect us directly with Diane to help her out in Vinton.

During the day on Tuesday, Jennie sent me a text and invited us over to her house for gumbo in the evening.  After we finished up at SC3, Sandy and I both got showers in the RV before heading over to Jennie’s house.

As we arrived at Jennie’s we were greeted by the welcoming committee of Jennie’s kids, Ace, Diesel, Paisley, and her dog Bella.  Ace guided me in to where the RV was to be parked and Jennie and our other dear friend Lori came out to greet us once we got parked.

After we gave everyone a quick tour of the RV, we headed inside and fielded questions from the kids regarding life in the RV.  Ace suggested that I should be packing heat if we’re going to continue to sleep in Wal-Mart parking lots and Paisley and Diesel were trying to convince us to sleep in their room for the night so that they could sleep in the RV.

Jennie didn’t want us sleeping in the Wal-Mart parking lot either, so she told us to stay parked in her yard while we were in town.

After a little while, Jennie’s in-laws, Mark and Vanessa and family friends Mark and Shirley, who we’ve gotten to know over the years of hosting Jennie’s softball camps at our old sports complex came over to visit with us as well.  It was great to see everyone and catch-up.

Lori, Me, Sandy, and Jennie.

As we sat there hearing everyone compare stories about there losses and dealing with insurance adjusters, it really hit me as to how resilient our friends were.  They had all suffered damages, some more than others, but there was no time for pity, just pick up the pieces, trust the Lord and keep moving forward.

That’s the way it was with everyone that we had met in these communities.  There was no one who wasn’t affected by this storm.  The only difference was how much they lost.  It didn’t matter if they were rich or poor, black or white, democrat or republican, the storm took no preference in its path of destruction.  Some of the very people who we were working next to all week were the very people who lost so much, yet here they were, taking time out of getting their own lives back to normal in order to help others get their lives back to normal.  It really was proof of how great the human spirit can be when it is grounded in faith.

On Wednesday, after Jennie gave us a quick tour of her ranch in the morning, we went back over to the facility that SC3 was managing.

We got right back at, I volunteered for ice duty early on again and then we just kept shuffling supplies throughout the morning.  Around mid-day, a woman from Houston by the name of Shannon who came to help because some people from Sulphur helped in Houston after Hurricane Harvey hit, asked me if she could “borrow me” for about an hour and we drove across town to another facility that was housing water, diapers, canned goods and other supplies.  For the next 90 minutes or so, Shannon, myself and a Sulphur HVAC contractor named Clayton King, whose trailer we were using to transport the supplies moved about three pallets of water by hand and every box of diapers in the facility into Clayton’s trailer and Shannon’s SUV.

When we returned to SC3, most of the volunteer core had already left, luckily Clayton brought a few of his employees over with him and the unloading process actually went pretty quick and smooth for the most part.  Again, witnessing selflessness first-hand by seeing Clayton use his own employees while on the clock to help his community.  At the end of the day on Wednesday I was drenched in sweat and exhausted.  We drove back to Jennie’s ranch, I took the best ice-cold shower of my life, ate dinner and was in bed and asleep by 7:30 PM.  As I crawled into bed, I thanked God that we were able to help and be exposed to such amazing people.

On Thursday, we went to SC3 in the morning, just shuffled some ice bags around and then headed over to Vinton to help Diane Conner with her operation in the Knights of Columbus building.  Diane’s set-up was different than what we were doing in Sulphur.  With Paula and Maggie, they were acting as a distribution center and getting supplies to other churches, who would then get those supplies to the end user who had the need.  What Diane had going on was working directly with the end user.  She basically had a little grocery store set up in the Knights of Columbus building where people could basically shop for food and supplies for free.  Sandy and I got there earlier in the day before they actually opened to the public to help get them ready.  Diane asked us if minded working outside and getting the cases of water that were being stored outside organized.  After Wednesday, I was an expert on water management, so we quickly accepted the task.  Being outside also kept us in close proximity to the RV, so Youk could easily keep an eye on us and offer encouragement when needed.

After water duty, I helped Diane’s son with trash duty and some general clean-up around the building to make it look a little nicer.  We stuck around for a little bit to help when shoppers arrived.  Everyone we interacted with was so grateful for what they were receiving.

Friday was a relatively light day compared to the others, Sandy helped prepare some meals with some of the other volunteers and I again had some ice truck duty.  I had to skip out a little early for some Zoom meetings.

At the end of the day, we went over to Lori’s house and had dinner with her and her husband Tom.  Youk was absolutely

Lori, Tom, Me, Youk, and Sandy.

in his glory because his new Aunt Lori let him into her house and he explored everything.

We left Lori’s place to head back to Jennie’s ranch in order to beat the curfew.  When we arrived, Jennie and the kids had just gotten back from Houston where they been since Wednesday for one final get-a-way before the kids went back to school.

We got to visit with Jennie and her husband Casey for a little while before retiring to the RV for our final night in Sulphur.

Saturday morning, he headed north and drove 410 miles into Grenada, Mississippi before settling into the Frog Hollow Campground for the night.

I sit and reflect on the past week, several things come to mind.

First, obviously, is my mom.  Doing what we did for a week makes me have a better understanding as to why she did what she did when volunteering with disaster relief efforts for the Salvation Army for so many years.  Because of her, it has always been in my DNA to help others.  There is a strange satisfaction that you get when you help others.  My mom’s favorite movie was “Pay it Forward.”  Whenever someone asks me to sign one of my books for them, that’s how I sign it, “Pay it Forward – Dan Clouser.”  My mom also referred to her reason for helping others as “Payback Time.”  She would tell me that throughout her life, she had many people who helped her along the way, and that now it was time for her to start paying back some of those favors.  I can’t even count the number of times that my mom would call me to tell me that she was going somewhere for a few weeks, months, fill in the blank on the time frame to volunteer in some sort of disaster relief effort.  Whether a hurricane, Ground Zero in New York or wherever she was needed, she made the time no matter what she had going on her own life.  It was so common to get those phone calls that I remember talking to my brother on the phone while watching the news of the destruction in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina seven months after my mom had passed away and we both said, “It’s so weird not getting a phone call from Mom telling us that she’s headed to New Orleans for a few months to help.”

Another thing that I think about is the comfort in knowing that we helped, but the discomfort in knowing that being there for just one week, we barely scratched the surface of the needs of these communities.

One of my biggest struggles in my life is the harsh reality that I can’t help everyone.  Throughout my coaching career, I fully realize that I have made a positive impact on thousands of young men and women that came through our program.  Yet many times, I focus on the ones that we didn’t get through to.  Yes, I coached a kid who was a Harvard Law graduate, worked as clerk for the Supreme Court and is now a successful attorney for one the world’s largest law firms, and yes, I coached several players who went on to play professional baseball and one that had a cup of coffee in the big leagues.  I’ve coached dentists, accountants, and successful entrepreneurs.  I’ve also coached some kids who are now in prison.  I’ve coached kids who are currently losing their battles with addiction.  I’ve coached kids who love me and would take a bullet for me, but I have also coached some kids who now hate me and may want to put a bullet in me.  Many times, I think of the latter kids and ask myself why I couldn’t get through to them.  I wonder if my career was a failure because I didn’t have a 100% success rate.  Strange indeed coming from someone who coached a sport that is based on failure for thirty years.  So with that in mind, I wish that we could have done more during our time in Sulphur and Vinton.  However, when I start to focus on what we couldn’t get done, I am reminded of the Starfish Story, which goes like this…

The Starfish Story

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

So, we may not have been able to make a difference in every resident of the communities that we were just in, but we most definitely made a difference in some.

The other thing that certainly brings me comfort is knowing that those amazing people that we worked with over the past week are just a sample of the people that make up those communities.  They will keep moving forward, and together they will rebuild.  They have a strong team and the road ahead will not be easy.  They have to remember that the rebuilding process is a marathon relay.  Which means it’s a long race, but it also can’t be run alone.  At times in the future, some of those wonderful people in those communities are going to get tired, they’re only three weeks into this really long marathon process.  When they start to get tired, they need to know when to hand the baton to someone else to take over for a little while so that they can rest.  I pray that with Sandy, myself and some of the other people that came in from out of town could take that baton from some of them for a little while so that they could get their second wind.  I pray that someone else can take the baton when they need their third and fourth winds as well.

They always say you have to eat an elephant one bite at a time, but it’s even easier when there are several people taking small bites out of it.

I’m also reminded of my podcast with Rachel Balkovec, when she said, “Do what you can, with what you have.”  A perfect example of the sub-title of my podcast, “Many little people, in many little places”, which is inspired by the opening lyrics of the Michael Franti song, “Gloria.”  Which goes, “When many little people, in many little places, do many little things, then the whole world changes.”

That’s exactly what we witnessed in Southwest Louisiana for the past week.  Many little people all pitching in however they can to help get their community rebuilt.  Paula, Maggie and Diane are not specialists in disaster relief, they just people who love and care about their community.  They’re doing what they can with what they have.  Some of these people will still be without power for more than a month yet, but they’re not sulking about it, they’re getting up everyday and helping themselves and others move forward.

So, I ask you to do what you can with what you have, maybe you can’t drive to Southwest Louisiana to take the baton and volunteer for a week or a month or even a day.  Maybe you can’t make a $40,000 donation to SC3, but you can do something.  Maybe you can make a $5 or a $10 donation and it will still make a huge difference for these communities and one day, when you need the help, someone else will be there to pay you back.

That’s what we’re put on this earth to do. To love one another and help one another.  That’s the love of God in action.