AAJ Member Karen Beyea- Schroeder received the Trial Lawyers Care Award in July 2018 for spearheading a TLC school supply drive for Hurricane Harvey victims. In the conversation below, she tells TLC what inspired her to lead this project and what motivates her to keep giving back to her community.
TLC: What led you to develop the service project?
Karen Beyea-Schroeder: We were warned that Hurricane Harvey was coming, but having lived through blizzards and hurricanes I did not think it was going to be too bad. In fact, I was speaking at the Texas Women Rainmakers conference that Friday, August 25th joking I was ready for the hurricane as I had Cards Against Humanity and wine.
Then Harvey became a tropical storm and stayed over Houston for days. Flooding came along with some tornados. People started losing their homes.
I am not one to sit around, so my husband and I started by setting up Red Cross shelters, walking the dogs at the local shelter, and, when we could, answering calls for help on Facebook. When the rain stopped, Houston showed what it was truly made of—a huge heart. Houston attorneys were great at making sure the Houston attorneys and staff had housing and basic needs met. I saw other Houston attorneys like Erin Copeland and her family driving down the streets to offer a meal to people working to make their homes inhabitable. Houston really suffered from the hurricane but people came out in droves to try to help others.
Then the Houston School District announced that a number of schools were flooded so school openings were delayed—some by a few weeks and others up to a month later. Seven schools did not even open this year as they had to be entirely rebuilt. With the Houston community doing what they could to ensure families had basic needs met, something had to be done for the children to ensure they had basic needs for school as well. I speak on behalf of Houston Bar Association for schools on topics like Law as a Career, the Constitution, and other civics issues, so I thought perhaps helping the children to replace their basic school supplies would be a start.
TLC: How has being involved in this project or service affected your life? What has it meant to you?
Karen Beyea-Schroeder: I learned so much about the Houston Federation of Teachers, Houston School District, and the kids. One of the first schools I went to after the hurricane told me that they lost a student to the flood waters and the children had to grieve the loss of their friend. One child came to school with no shoes as they were lost in the flood, but attending school was so important to the family he came without enough clothes to properly dress himself. The school district was trying to replace some basic tools, but this took money and time and put the children behind in their classes. Teachers were getting donations to try to replenish their school supplies as they already spent their allotment for the year. In some cases, children were even being charged to replace their school books lost to the flood waters. There was so much turmoil. But what I saw was that, even with the children going through so much, they wanted to attend school and learn. They just needed tools to do this—both teachers and students. Being involved in this project let me help in a small way, and made me think about priorities and being thankful for what I have.
I also learned that although the Houston School District is the largest in the State of Texas, and seventh largest school district in the United States, almost 75% of students come from economically disadvantaged families. Yet, even with the economic stressors, the Houston School District has lowered its dropout rate from 22% in 2007 down to 13.7% in 2016. I believe the Houston Federation of Teachers is a large reason for this improvement. It was my point of contact for the project and always thought about how to best help the children and give them the tools they needed. So being able to help kids even with small things like a classroom learning center, pair of scissors, or paper was one less worry for the students, teachers, and families. Houston will be rebuilding from the hurricane for years, and helping, even if in just one area, is always good.
I am thankful for being introduced to the wonderful president of the Houston Federation of Teachers Zeph Capo, the many teachers, and, of course, the kids. We made sure to bring in help from Art Kosieradzki at Sieben Carey and his children’s National Robotics Team to get more donations. We also had the generosity of Mark and Becky Lanier to use their property to store the donations until Boy Scout Troop 889 from The Woodlands, Texas could sort and organize the donations. This project showed me that it takes many people to bring an idea to execution, and there are a lot of people with big hearts. The helping continues as I continue to discuss with Zeph what the Houston schools need, and some of the Boy Scouts have decided to help the Houston Schools for their Eagle Projects.
TLC: Why is it important to you to give back to the community?
Karen Beyea-Schroeder: The community gives you so much in life, a random smile, a person who stops on the side of the road to help you with a flat tire, or even that person who bought your meal in the drive thru. Giving back is the least one can do. Helping the Houston children is an investment in the future. Some day they will be our leaders, our educators, our doctors. They will be the people making decisions in government. Sometimes all they need is a break. If giving school supplies helps give the teachers and students a break, it is a true investment in our future. It teaches them to give back as well.
Posted on October 9, 2018 at 8:26 pm in Community Outreach, General by Marie D'Avignon - RSS 2.0