Partner Highlight: The Children's Museum of Houston provides educational and emotional support to local communities during and after Hurricane Harvey

Jason Hammond, Children's Museum of Houston
Children's Museum of Houston

On August 25th, my staff and I were prepping our storage facility at the Cossaboom Family YMCA when we were told to stop what we were doing and get home before Hurricane Harvey made landfall. We placed a few valuable items on our half ton work table, dropped some sand bags in front of the closet doors and headed our separate ways home. All of us got home without incident and a few hours later the rain started. At one point during the deluge it was estimated that over 1 trillion gallons of water was being dumped on the city of Houston – this is how much water is dumped over Niagara Falls in 17 days. The people of Houston hunkered down and waited out the storm. Many of us took on negligible or minor damage, some of us were far less lucky. Complete neighborhoods were flooded and thousands of people were displaced. Roads collapsed, freeways were overflowed with water and much of the city was without power. The storm relentlessly pounded the city of Houston for four days and then was suddenly gone. The sun came out and people emerged from their homes. Within seconds people put their hands out to one another and the process of rebuilding had begun.

The George R. Brown Convention Center was quickly set up as a relief shelter housing thousands of citizens, many of them children. Just before the storm had hit members of the Outreach Department at the Children’s Museum of Houston had created science kits that could be distributed to the shelters in case people were displaced. Those kits were put to use on August 30th. Partnering with the YMCA of greater Houston, a space was provided at the George R. Brown Convention Center where parents could feel safe to leave their children and attend to other important matters. In this space, the Children’s Museum of Houston was given a space where kids could conduct science experiments including making slime, creating spectroscopes, designing their own LED jewelry, engineer scribble bots and become architects creating KEVA plank structures. Because of the museum’s many outreach engagements conducted throughout the spring and summer, both children and parents alike recognized many of us by face and name and were very pleased and excited that the Children’s Museum was there to offer activities. Families sheltering at George R. Brown were given Uber credits so that they could travel to the museum itself while the METROrail was inoperable. On September 3rd, after four days at the George R. Brown, museum educators moved over to  a second shelter at NRG stadium where we remained until September 23rd. Museum staff provided 700 hours of service and reached over 2,400 children.

The Children’s Museum was the first of the Houston Museum District organizations to re-open, with families coming to the museum to reconnect with one another and receive a much needed recharge. Educational programming was on a daily rotating schedule so that families visiting on subsequent days would be given new experiences. Many of these activities helped parents address their children’s social and emotional response to the flood in a safe and upbeat manner. Open Doors free admission passes were distributed without limitation to low income families by community based partners and hurricane recovery providers at 890 + locations throughout greater Houston. Families who bring their Harvey Card to the museum will be admitted free of charge through December 2017.

We weren’t alone. Early on a partnership was set up with HISD to collect school uniforms and supplies, with teachers picking up and distributing donations at high-need schools. Caring Houstonians are still dropping off supplies to students in need to this day.

Three Title I HISD schools that sustained heavy hurricane damage (R.P. Harris, Braeburn and Hilliard) were bussed to the museum for tours during the week before they were able to get into their school so that children could meet their new teachers and get ready for back to school routines.

As Houston continues to rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, the Children’s Museum of Houston continues to provide educational and emotional support to families and students throughout the great city.

Houston Strong!

To learn more about the Children's Museum of Houston's outreach efforts, please contact Jason Hammond at jhammond@cmhouston.org