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Big Hearts

Alumni in Texas helping with Hurricane Harvey relief

David Overton treats a patient affected by Hurricane Harvey

From The Ichabod - Winter 2018

Packed and ready to go on a six-day backpacking trip, David Overton planned to head out the next morning. A strong desire to help those in need changed his plans.

That night in August, Overton, bsn ’06, was looking at Facebook from his home in Dallas, Texas. Friends were posting about Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall five days earlier and pounded the Houston area with rain and flooding.

“Do I go west and go backpacking, or do I go south and see where I can help,” Overton, a registered nurse and Army veteran, wondered. “I had a significant desire to help for no other reason other than it felt like the right thing to do.”

Overton and Nick Woolery, bpa ’08, have never met, but their careers brought them to Texas – Overton as associate clinical director of The Advisory Board Company, where he consults with large-scale health care companies; and Woolery as director of strategy and innovation with the city of Baytown, where he also serves as Rotary president. Both found themselves in the heart of Hurricane Harvey disaster recovery. Both of them pulled experiences from Washburn University to guide them.

Katrina Cleanup Forces Leadership Role on Woolery

Woolery first experienced hurricanes 11 years ago with Katrina cleanup during a 2005-06 winter break trip to Mississippi and spring break in New Orleans.

“Katrina hit me pretty quickly, just seeing the need on TV,” Woolery said. “I started asking other students if they were interested in going. People jumped on board quickly.”

Woolery led 75 students on the New Orleans trip through Washburn’s Learning in the Community program. However, the relief organization he connected with ended up being corrupt and did not follow through on promises. Lodging, dining plans and even places to shower and use the restroom fell through with no warning. Woolery had to step up.

“Every day, the other students worked, came back, ate and had lunches packed for the next day,” said Rick Ellis, director, LinC, Washburn University. Ellis joined the students on that trip but let Woolery lead the group and deal with the issues, thrusting a leadership role on him he didn’t expect.

“He never once got to go out and help gut a single house,” Ellis said. “He made sure everybody was taken care of and had a good experience. He became a leader like a lot of other people – it was foisted on him.”
Now in city management, Woolery worked with storm preparation, emergency response and cleanup with Harvey.

“Katrina was a huge eye opener that really helped me during Hurricane Harvey,” Woolery said. “Making sure we’re ready to take in legitimate and credible volunteers. Our citizens need good, caring people who are willing to help our community.”

One-man Clinic

Intent on helping Harvey victims, Overton purchased $5,000 worth of much-needed supplies, loaded them into his truck and drove to a shelter in Houston. A volunteer coordinator directed him where they needed nursing staff, and eventually someone asked him to help someone.

“I’m excited I’m going to get my first patient. I walk over there and it’s this little old lady, and she wants to go outside and smoke a cigarette. I spent about an hour there before I decided I didn’t want to be staged up in a convention center. It’s not my style.”

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of volunteers had descended on Houston, and Overton thought he could be better used elsewhere.

“I knew the coastal regions were still hurting badly and medical aid was needed,” he said.

His solution was to become a one-man clinic. He found his way to Rockport, Texas, and quickly made friends with the town’s farmers and ranchers. With a cross on his truck to indicate first aid, Overton drove through the coastal neighborhood where residents were digging out of the damage. In Friendswood, Texas, he helped a family with five foster children gut their house. Their city was not a mandatory flood zone area and they didn’t have flood insurance.

“Without a payment from your insurance company, it’s pretty difficult to recover from something like this,” Overton said.

Overton worked with a pharmacist to get penicillin, amoxicillin, insulin and other drugs and supplies. They came in handy and probably prevented some major injuries. One woman’s jaw was badly swollen from a dental procedure she had before the hurricane hit. The dentist prescribed amoxicillin but she never made it to the pharmacy. An out-of-town volunteer forgot his medicine for an infection but Overton had what he needed. A diabetic woman had gone a week without insulin so he supplied some along with an extra glucometer.

Immediate Devastation, Long-term Impact

Nick Woolery accepts a check on behalf of his cityWoolery was in the Baytown emergency operations center when Harvey hit, a ground-zero perspective he didn’t get as a student. The city, 20 miles east of Houston, has 80,000 residents. More than 50 inches of rain fell to the north during the storm, bringing historic flooding to the city. Cedar Bayou, which floods at six feet, reached 18 feet during the storm. About 4,500 homes in Baytown flooded.

“We knew there were residents in their houses who would wake up that next morning and step out into water in their bedrooms,” Woolery said. “I broke down knowing in an instant they lost everything they had worked their entire lives to build.”

For Overton, he was fixing immediate problems as a nurse – maybe even saving lives – but he believes the effects of Hurricane Harvey will be long lasting. While cleaning homes in a lower-class community, Overton saw residents drying flood-damaged mattresses in the sun. That wasn’t enough to get rid of the mold.

“We had a truckload of bleach and we explained what they needed to do. Will all of them get all the mold out of their homes? No. Will that mold cause significant health problems for them? Yes. The health care need will
be significant.”

As someone who’s worked in stressful fields and pushes himself during marathons and 40-mile backpacking trips, he says he can get pushed to the limit emotionally.

“I think a wise nurse remembers to find balance,” said Cindy Hornberger, bsn ’78, faculty emeriti and former dean of the School of Nursing. “Nursing is about caring and giving of yourself. You have to find a way to fill that back up.”

“You’re going to experience some very emotionally difficult things,” Overton said. “You walk through it, relying on whatever source of strength you rely on as a person. When you come out of it on the other side, you will be a little bit stronger. When you develop those experiences throughout your career, it starts to turn into grit.”

Leadership Coming Full Circle

“We still have needs,” Woolery said. “Probably the biggest help moving forward is people with the skills to put a house back together. There were just so many homes impacted.”

He’ll get some of that help when Washburn students come to Baytown in January.

“There’s this circle now,” Ellis said. “Nick organized the Katrina trip as a student. Now he has the same issue, and Washburn’s going to step up and help him. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s Kansas and the Midwest. Washburn students are workhorses when you put them to work.”

Returning the Favor

Flooding in Baytown, Texas

Nick Woolery organized relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2006. More than 10 years later, Woolery was on the receiving end when Washburn students volunteered in January 2018 to help with Hurricane Harvey cleanup.

January 2018 Trip Leaders

Bonner Leaders: Shyla Mason
Christian Challenge: Hannah Fairchild
Leadership Institute: Hannah Fairchild and Mackenzie Moore
WSGA: Zach King

For information on helping with relief efforts, contact Woolery at or 832.316.9407.


The Ichabod magazine spring 2021

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

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