RHS grad to organize Adopt-a-School program for Houston

Ridgefield High School graduate Sarah Mushlin has seen the damage of Hurricane Harvey firsthand.

She and her family lived through the trauma of the last week, and now are helping their adopted city of Houston as it attempts to recover from the devastation of mass flooding.

“We were huddled in a safe spot in our home for hours — the anxiety was crazy,” said Mushlin, who lives in a neighborhood in the west side of the city with her husband and three kids.

She was fortunate that her home wasn’t flooded but knows plenty of others who have had to evacuate the city to live with family members or be rescued and stay at hurricane shelters.

“It’s pretty much neighborhood by neighborhood,” said Mushlin, who graduated with the RHS Class of 1996. “There are some neighborhoods that are fine, and then there are others that have 10 feet of water still …

“You could be somewhere that’s completely dry and look down the street and see homes that are flooded in four-to-five-feet of water.”

While Mushlin didn’t leave her home until Wednesday, Aug. 30, she said that the recovery process has started.

It’ll take months — potentially years — for things to get back to normal, she estimates.

“Some school districts outside of Houston, in smaller towns, have cancelled school for the year,” said Mushlin, who works for a small, nonprofit in the city that specializes in social and emotional development for kids who attend lower-income schools.

“What I would like to do is set up an adopt-a-school program with Ridgefield schools,” she said. “I know a lot of principals and I’m familiar with a lot of the schools that have been damaged the most…

“My idea is pairing Ridgefield High School up with a Houston school, and having the students raise money for their adopted school. Same for all the middle schools and elementary schools.

She told The Press Friday, Sept. 1, that the Houston Independent School District (HISD) has yet to release a list of schools that are totally destroyed but she expects there to be thousands of children displaced.

“We’re talking about 218,000 students,” Mushlin said. “Every school in the city has at least some damage. They’re going around right now, school by school, and doing assessing. The one in our neighborhood had only minor roof damage, but others won’t be able to open back up this year.

“I’m not sure what they’re going to do,” she added. “These are thousands and thousands of students who won’t have anywhere to go.”

For residents looking to help create a partnership between Ridgefield Public Schools and HISD, they should email Mushlin at sarahmushlin@gmail.com

She said she won’t know more until the principals are able to re-enter the damaged facilities, which is expected to take place Tuesday, Sept. 5.

“There’s a high percentage of schools that are completely decimated and ruined,” she said. “They’re not letting anybody in, not even the principals this week…

“The elementary schools are probably in the worst shape because they’re only one story.”

Cleaning supplies

While she awaits more information from the schools, Mushlin has been volunteering at the Jewish Community Center about 15 minutes from her home.

“We stayed in the house for a couple of days and then the sun came out and we were able to get out,” she said.

The recovery process has been brutal thus far.

“It starts with throwing out everything that touched water,” she said. “The water was contaminated so everything must be replaced.

“There are piles and piles of furniture mounted on lawns all over the city,” she added. “People are trying to throw stuff out as quickly as possible, and get it catalogued for the insurance companies.”

Besides helping friends throw out damaged furniture, Mushlin has been helping remove drywall and carpet.

The key, she said, is getting rid of moisture inside homes.

“We’re really just trying to prevent mold,” she said. “But what people don’t realize is that the flood damage has already started to cook. The temperatures are in the 90s this week. The smell inside these homes is horrible, and breathing in the air is dangerous.”  

According to Mushlin, the items in highest demand for those helping with relief efforts inside the city are cleaning supplies.

“Bleach, towels, buckets, dehumidifiers, fans, anything like that,” she said.

She wants to set up a Venmo account or a GoFundMe page for cleaning supplies, and told The Press she would have a link to share over the weekend with Ridgefield residents who would like to donate — or they can email her and coordinate on how to send money.

“There’s activity going on everywhere, at every church in the city,” she said.

“I’ve also been volunteering at a distribution center so what I’d like to do is buy a ton of cleaning products and bring them there and they can distribute them to the families and people who need them.”

Desks, toy chests, couches

Mushlin has also been using social media to facilitate furniture donations for her friends.

“Desks, toy chests, couches — we’re going to need more and more of those types of things as the recovery process moves along,” she said. “I’ve been in a few homes that have absolutely no furniture now — it was all destroyed.”

Other items in high demand include baby food, underwear and socks, Mushlin said.

“We all cleared out our closets immediately, but there’s so much more that’s needed in the weeks ahead,” she added. “There are so many people in the middle of the chaos.”

History of floods

Mushlin and her family moved to the city four years ago.

Harvey’s rains have brought the third flood in that time span, enough water to chase away some of her friends for good.

“Obviously this is the most catastrophic,” she said. “But there are people we know who have had their homes destroyed three times in three years.

“I have two sets of friends that are getting ready to leave permanently but their homes are worth nothing so they’re stuck…

“It’s as bad as the media is portraying it,” Mushlin concluded.