When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, Americans immediately began preparing care packages to send to the affected families. While most people helped quietly from their homes, 11th Reg. Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadet Kyle Smith from Hockessin, Del., took action and traveled to the scene with his church to rebuild people’s homes.
The nursing student from the University of Delaware donated his time rebuilding part of a family’s house in Gulfport, Miss., that had been destroyed in the hurricane and clearing out a church flooded with water and debris.
“I didn’t realize how extensive the damage actually was until I was down there,” said Smith. “It was definitely mind-blowing to see.”
This volunteer work was nothing new for Smith, who spent his childhood completing charity with his family at Andrew’s Place, a traditional housing program in Delaware through Friendship House, a non-profit Christian corporation committed to helping homeless men get back on their feet.
“All through growing up, my family was really big into helping out at that shelter,” said Smith. “My dad’s a pastor so he’s always been real big into outreach, so that’s definitely how I got my roots. I was always brought up [volunteering].”
It isn’t always easy to walk into a homeless shelter with unbiased opinions, and Smith found that keeping an open mind was a struggle he had to overcome.
“A lot of them are ex-convicts,” said Smith. “The hardest part is just trying to treat everyone equally, because some people aren’t as receptive to help.”
It can be disheartening to be around those who have nothing, but Smith finds that the benefits of volunteering vastly outweigh any discomfort.
“Homeless people aren’t necessarily bad people,” said Smith. “They may have had a couple unfortunate experiences. They just don’t have the resources that a lot of us do to recover and bounce back from them as easily, so it’s nice to be there and give them those resources. Once they get back on their feet, they can stay on their feet. They just need somebody who’s willing to give them that chance.”
Volunteering has taught Smith valuable lessons in humanity and helping others that he utilized during training at the Leader Development and Assessment Course at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
“Teamwork is a huge thing [Cadre] stress here, so growing up always helping people out really helps your mindset here because you can’t do this by yourself,” said Smith. “You have to work as a team here to get through it.”
The aspiring Army nurse doesn’t plan on giving up charity work anytime soon. In fact, he sees volunteering as a necessary aspect of his life.
“It’s something I grew up with and that I’ve known my whole life,” said Smith. “I would love to do some medical volunteering, maybe get a little more schooling in and do more disaster relief. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing something…It’s really gratifying when someone says, ‘Thank you, you’ve helped me through something, I don’t think I could’ve done it on my own.’ That’s probably the best part.”
Story by: Alecia Pasdera