News from the Bush School

Bush School Students Aid in Hurricane Harvey Relief

September 18, 2017

Supplies donated by Bush School students with two Bush School banners in the background


Hurricane Harvey, the storm that recently swept through southeast Texas, leaving in its wake a path of destruction, has made one thing clear—Houston and the surrounding areas are in need of help. As emergency workers labored around the clock to assist those in need, other ordinary citizens rose to the challenge to help as well.

Students at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University provided varied relief efforts, from a GoFundMe account to providing boots-on-the-ground assistance in Houston. Selfless public service is a cornerstone of Texas A&M’s core values, and the Bush School students who answered the call to serve in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey are only a small part of Texas A&M’s larger contribution.

Shelby Poncik grew up in a town near Houston, and seeing her friends and family personally affected by Hurricane Harvey inspired her to begin collecting goods to donate to those in need.

“I think ‘selfless service’ means truly putting others before yourself and not doing it for the recognition or the ‘pat on the back,’” she said. “It means doing it for the sake of helping your fellow man and looking to improve the world around you without asking for anything in return.”

Poncik isn’t the only Bush School student who answered the recent call for selfless service. Numerous other students at the Bush School spearheaded or assisted with other larger efforts as well. First-year student Zachary Cochran felt he had to do something as he and his parents watched images of the damage from the flood on a TV screen in his San Antonio living room. As stories started to emerge about his friends’ losses, he could not fathom being in their shoes.

“It was at this point that I knew I needed to do something to aid my ailing community,” Cochran said.

Learning that what the community needed most was cash donations, Cochran, using his digital design skills, created a sticker that read “Rockport Strong.” The stickers, sold with the idea that all profits go directly to relief efforts, eventually expanded to include multiple communities affected. Now there are stickers for Port Aransas, Corpus Christi, Houston, and other communities damaged by the storm. So far, he has sold nearly 300 stickers, raising $630.

While Poncik and Cochran were able to donate goods and cash to the cause, other Bush School students made the trip to Houston to provide hands-on assistance to those most in need. One group of students that included Jack Kuplack and DeForest Gordy spent a day helping Cyprus community in Houston clear wreckage from the storm.

Former Texas A&M student Austin Merkel, who lives in the community, made a list of those in his community he knew were most in need; one was a 100-year-old WWII veteran.

“We helped a number of families including a WWII veteran being sponsored by the Lone Survivor Foundation,” Gordy said. “Everyone involved felt the emotion in the room when we got to meet the 100-year-old WWII vet we were able to help.”

Similar to many communities in Houston, Cyprus was the victim of a massive amount of damage caused by Harvey. Kuplack, originally from San Antonio, also knew he needed to help in any way he could. For him, helping this veteran, among others, proved the perfect opportunity as they spent the day clearing homes of ruined furniture, tearing down dry wall, and ripping up flooded floors.

“When the news of Houston hit, I knew I was going to try to contribute in at least some small way,” Kuplack said. “For me personally, anything less wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. I think each person in the state and nation who has helped out has found their place in the effort. Whether it’s a blood donation or driving a boat in from out of state, we’ve all found our own way to serve. Texas is going to get through this and that’s exactly why.”