HCC employee finds salvation in a parking lot

Oct 27, 2017

Hurricane Harvey may have rained down destruction on the city of Houston, but it also inspired thousands of miracles of kindness in the most ordinary of places.

“We did not expect what would happen,” said Cynthia Avalos, a Houston Community College office manager. Like so many Houstonians, she had felt comfortable they had everything they would need to get through the coming storm. Her home, her family, her supplies – all were ready. She had been so prepared and at ease, she stayed late at work to complete last minute tasks before the campus closed in advance of the storm.

Avalos’s family was desperate for a miracle. They were wet. They were worried. Like many cast adrift in the storm, they didn’t know what to do next. It’s one thing to evacuate a family, but what do you do when six of your family members have fur and paws and leaving them behind is not an option?

All our lives we are taught the idea that stranger equals danger, but Hurricane Harvey had a way of altering the natural order of things and turning strangers into family.

Avalos was in the parking lot of a with her family and a duffle bag full of puppies when her miracle was set in motion. Two young ladies approached and said, “Our house is fine. We live nearby. Would you like to come with us? We can give you shelter. You can stay there. We have beds.”

Not wanting to mislead the girls, Avalos said, “You only see three dogs right here, but I have six; there’s three more in a duffle bag.” She thought that would be the end of the offer. The girls checked with Nicole Richert, a children’s pastor at Fairfield Baptist Church, who had been providing shelter for several others displaced by the storm, and her answer was instantaneous, “We will make anything work.”

“I didn’t even think about how,” Richert recalled. “I didn’t know what kind of dogs they were, and didn’t even know some were puppies. We were just there to help families stay together during crisis.”

Avalos gathered her family menagerie, and they’ve been guests of Richert’s family ever since.  While Avalos had some initial trepidation about living with total strangers, including other flood evacuees rescued by the family, she said it has been an amazing experience.

“I didn’t know what kind of house I was going to go into,” Avalos said. Raw emotion filled her voice as she spoke of the Richert family’s kindness and generosity. “They made everything so easy for other people going through the same experience … We didn’t feel like we were alone.”

The relief of finding shelter was overwhelming after the harrowing ordeal the night before. It had been the sound of crying puppies that alerted her to the fact her home was quickly flooding.

When the opportunity to escape arrived, Avalos, along with her husband and 15-year-old son, made the difficult decision to abandon their home. They were fortunate to be met with open arms by the Richerts who had been helping numerous families in the parking lot find their way to safety.

“We recognize the struggle of life is real, and sometimes, what people need is just a hand,” Richert said. She is open about how she has gained so much from those she helped. “Sometimes people think that helping others will put them out. What people need to realize is how much richer life becomes when you get to know people in new and exciting ways. I would consider these people true friends. I believe they will be connected to our family for years. I honestly adore them.”

The Avalos family continues to work on repairing their home. Although they are unsure when they will be able to move back home, for the time being they know their new friends, the Richert Family, have a place for them to stay.

“They’re great people,” Avalos tearfully said. “Their spirit – they’re positive. They’re optimistic. They gave us a lot of hope from the beginning.” 

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