It’s good to take a pause from the hectic pace of running a small business and escape the office once in a while. In my experience, there’s no better break than volunteer work—pitching in can work wonders for clearing your head, filling your heart and brightening your outlook on life.

Home damaged by Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey caused severe flooding, absolutely decimating hundreds of homes.

I recently spent seven days knee-deep in muck and mold in Houston, helping residents recover from the terrors of Hurricane Harvey. The trip provided me with six solid days of dirty, exhausting work, but it gave back as much as it took out of me. I joined scores of other volunteers in cleaning up their damaged homes; the experience gifted me with not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, but also a refreshed perspective and a renewed focus on my financial management work.

When the severe flooding of hurricane rains pass, homes in the storm’s strike zone can be devastated. Take the Acostas, for example. Mrs. Acosta works nights, supporting her disabled husband and their nine-year old son. While waiting for volunteers to clean out their house, the family stayed in a nearby motel thanks to FEMA funding, which could run out at any time. Our projects included helping to muck their damaged belongings and gut damaged walls and flooring so the remediation process can finally begin. This is the first step in an expensive rebuilding process.

Debris from hurricane-damaged homes fills a Houston street

Volunteers from NECHAMA and other groups helped gut homes and clear debris.

Even months later, hurricane-hit homes can be covered with dangerous mold, piled high with ruined belongings and filled with moldy walls and floors that make the structure unlivable. Volunteers in the Houston area trudged through houses to knock down waterlogged walls, haul away ruined furniture, and clear away debris.

Of course I was not alone for all of this hard work. During my Houston trip, I was surrounded by people that left their families for a few days to nearly three months to transform the lives of total strangers. I traveled to Houston with NECHAMA – Jewish response to disaster, a group  focused on response and recovery after hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters. The crews I worked with included retirees like Curtis, a former software engineer from Pennsylvania, and Pat and John, previously attorneys from Minnesota. Others took paid time off or put their business on pause to help—Donna took a week of PTO from running a shelter in Minneapolis to volunteer in Houston.

Volunteers removed damaged drywall and sheetrock from hurricane-affected houses.

Floodwaters ruined walls and floors in Houston homes; our process prepared the homes for remediation and eventual rebuilding.

Our NECHAMA team worked alongside other faith-based volunteers from the International Orthodox Christian Charities, a group that also came from all walks of life; our IOCC leader, Chuck, was a retired mail carrier who has left his family for two and a half months to help in Houston. At night, we returned to our home base in ChristChurch Presbyterian in Bellaire, Texas. It consisted of a large, open room that housed up to 30 volunteers. Part of the space held neat rows of air mattresses and cots; the rest housed a commercial kitchen and dining area. Lights out at 10 p.m. sharp; up and at ‘em right at 7 a.m. A shower trailer offered a cold-water rinse, or volunteers could walk half a mile to a nearby rec center for a hot shower. The volunteers varied greatly in faith, age and background, but we all shared a desire to pitch in where help was most needed.

People from all walks of life pitched in to help Houston recover.

Working alongside volunteers from NECHAMA, International Orthodox Christian Charities and other groups was an inspiring experience.

On Saturday, I returned ago to the comfort of my Chicago apartment after six days of grueling recovery work, feeling overwhelmed by the kindness and giving nature of all my fellow volunteers. The last six days were indeed a profound exercise in personal and spiritual growth, and it made me feel grateful I’m fortunate enough to have a business and a home to return to.

Interested in taking a break from small-business work to volunteer? Reach out to me at Daliah@MySmallBusinessPro.com; I’d love to share my experience with you.